Northeast Los Angeles Placemaking Competition: Reclaim the River Day


Project submitted by Justin Stadel

Project designed for entire NELA area

Project Summary and Scale

Community workshops to build tule reed boats and bird-themed kites to paddle down, and fly over, the river on an annual "Reclaim the River Day" in Northeast Los Angeles, starting in 2015.

Why are you committed to this project?

Since putting cutouts of cowboys on the Verdugo hills overlooking the freeways, I have been looking to integrate Native American culture more actively into our community. My extensive conversations with L. Frank Manriquez, a native Tongva/Gabrelino artist, has resulted in this project.

What are the most relevant characteristics of project site and scale?

This project utilizes the entire navigable river and potential riverbanks in Northeast L.A. This can be an annual event that grows bigger each year. In our first year, we plan to have a boat-building workshops held at a local community site and a bird-themed kite-building workshop held at the Audubon Society at Debs Park.

Describe how this project will reinforce a sense of place or enhance the built environment.

Reclaim the River Day will be an annual reminder for the NELA community of our opportunity to engage with a river environment that is both unique to Los Angeles and indelible to Los Angeles. The boat building will be a community effort that members can translate into an experience paddling down the river. The kite-building workshop is based on L. Frank's personal encounter with the California condor in the wild. By giving children and adults a creative space to make their own kites, participants can develop a personal relationship with the river environment.


Provide a description of the project's necessary planning activities.

A basic list of necessary activities include:
Secure a community space for boat building
Secure a permit
Secure insurance
Secure a legal tule reed harvesting site
Gather a group of experienced builders
Plan L. Frank's trip to Los Angeles
Purchase necessary materials for boats and kites
Plan boat building workshops
Plan kite building workshop(s)
Plan a reed harvesting day(s)

What is a rough estimate of your project budget?

This project is scalable. The first $2,000 will go towards securing a permit to boat down the river, insurance, travel for L. Frank Manriquez from Santa Rosa, a tule reed harvest, and materials for kite and boat building. Additional funding can go towards making it bigger and better, with field trips, promotional material, and honoraria for guest speakers and workshops.

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How does this project leverage existing resources and efforts?

Almost all of the infrastructure is already in place. I have found written support from the Audubon Society at Debs Park, the L.A. Revitalization River Corp, and fiscal sponsorship from the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock. Artist L. Frank Manriquez, a native Tongva/Gabrellino and Angeleno, currently lives and builds boats in Santa Rosa. She will be organizing and leading native collaborators in Los Angeles willing to build these boats. The only missing component is the essential seed money to kick off this project. With the reward from this competition, the project can move from conception to actualization. Businesses and community investors can see a project that they may experience one year, and want to participate in the next. Local investment can help this project grow bigger and better, much like another community project I am currently working on, the GLASSELLLAND sign.

What community need is your project serving?

By highlighting activity in and around the river, this project specifically positions the community as a champion of river and habitat revitalization. The boat-building sessions can inform and engage the community in a native history much older than the river environment as we currently know it. It gives us a historical point of origin to build from and positions a native community at the center of it all, rather than at the margins. L. Frank has extensive experience engaging school children in native culture, and this will be a hands-on activity for everyone involved from start to finish.

If your project is realized, what does success look like?

For a few weeks in spring, members of the community will be invited to watch, learn about, and participate in the construction of tule boats at a local community center. Adults and children can also participate in a kite-building workshop at the Audubon Society in Debs Park and learn about the tumultuous and inspiring recovery of the California condor. Everything culminates in a day of boating down the river in these community-made boats and flying creative and inspirational kites overhead.

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