Omar Brownson, Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation



The NELA River Collaborative project builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. For more information visit www.mylariver.org

The L.A. River Revitalization Corporation (LARRC) is a non-profit organization that works to catalyze sustainable land use development along the L.A. River. The LARRC will establish an educational and community-based campaign that engages residents and business leaders in the creation of a thriving riverfront district.


My name is Omar Brownson. I am the Executive Director of the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation.

The L.A. River Revitalization Corporation was created by the city of Los Angeles as part of the master plan that was adopted in 2007. So in 2007 the city spent 18 months to really reimagine what the L.A. River could mean for Los Angeles from a social, environmental, economic, and ecological perspective. And they created a couple of entities to then help implement that master plan. One was the River Cooperation Committee which was a group that is made of the city, the county, and the Army Corps of Engineers. So that was a governmental coordinating body. Then they created the L.A. River Corporation as a nonprofit entity to be a little bit more entrepreneurial and nimble to help implement the city's master plan.

So I think that the way the River Corporation looks at the L.A. River is how do we take an ambitious initiative and make it as real as possible for people today. So while we lay the groundwork for the ultimate transformation, we need to continue to show wins along the way. And so we have been doing that in three ways. One is pushing what we call Proof of Concept projects. So an example is our first major project which is a bicycle/equestrian/pedestrian bridge in North Atwater. This is iconic in design. It is the first cable stay bridge built in the 21st century in Los Angeles. It is an example of a public/private partnership. We have raised significant philanthropic dollars. This would be the first major philanthropic venture in the L.A. River while we have also leveraged public funds.

So the second piece of the strategy is aligning public policy around the L.A. River. The L.A. River has multiple jurisdictions and so how do we align those jurisdictions and align the public policy to really address the L.A. River in a more comprehensive way. An example of that as it relates to our work is the launch of Greenway 2020. Which is a movement to bring together Angelenos to reimagine what the L.A. River could be by the year 2020. That we could walk, bike the entire 51 miles of the L.A. River by the year 2020. The third area that we are pushing is to really strategically market the L.A. River. It is really helping to brand a point of view. And we want to have a point of view of the LAL.A.River which is about fun, it is a resource that we can use today. An example of how we are marketing the river is our Regatta Club. And we have been throwing parties with a purpose every month now. And so as we push out on the social media front and are engaging people in the online world, we are also engaging people very much in creating opportunity for people to come together.

No one can create the transformation of the L.A. River alone if we want to make the transformation happen. We have to make a bigger pie. And a bigger pie means we have to bring new people to the table to really make the investment. That's not just financial, that's in ideas, and that's in relationships, and that's in really activating the whole array of social change that is needed to get something that is as ambitious as this.

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I look at the River Corporation's principle role within the NELA Collaborative as really taking the ideas from a planning stage to an implementation stage. The example is the Rio Vistas project. The Rio Vistas project is basically working with local high school students and engaging them in the transformation of their neighborhood through these cul-de-sacs. In the Frogtown neighborhood there are 27 streets that dead end into the L.A. River. Instead of these being cul de sacs with a fence that say "dead end", these should be new beginnings. These should be river views. And the Rio Vistas project is engaging the local youth as part of this. And not just planning, but creating shovel ready prototypes. We hired a landscape designer to work with us side by side so not only could we flesh out ideas and get the youth excited but also create ideas that are executable.

It is about intentionality. And that is essential in something as ambitious as this where you have people that care both locally as well as regionally, and even nationally. President Obama has funding for the L.A. River in his budget. So how can the NELA Collaborative bring a range of stakeholders together to intentionally bring the change along the river in a way that aligns not just local interests but national resources and interests as well.

So I think that we are in a unique space where while there may be a range of ideas there is a common interest that the investment matters and that the L.A. River is no longer a liability but an asset to the region. And so how do we be creative in that process to really bring forth those range of ideas into something that is tangible that we can touch. That leaves a legacy for future generations. That is the beauty of transforming Los Angeles, that's the beauty of real estate. That's the beauty of community development.

Part of what the River Corporation has been doing is taking a branding perspective, market oriented perspective, towards what change can look like. So a lot of how the LA River has been thought of historically is what are the water benefits, or what are the flood control implications. It wasn't about what is the human experience and how do people in the neighborhood, whether they are local youth or a commuter going down on a bike, what are they experiencing? And based on those experiences, we interviewed a whole range of people. One of the key themes that came out of that process was understanding the recreational benefits. There are very few places in Los Angeles that public space is really centered around public space. We have public space, often times in Los Angeles at the Grove, or the Promenade, or LA Live, and that's really where the public can come together but it is really built around commercial space. But with the L.A. River we can really bring people together around a public space in a very significant way. So what is the user looking for? If they are bringing their family, they want a place they can have lemonade, they want a place where they can use the restroom? Now with the kayaking, how do they rent a kayak? Bicycling is becoming more and more popular in Los Angeles so how do I rent a bicycle? Thinking about this L.A. River as a connector -- one out of every three Metro stops in Los Angeles is within one mile of the L.A. River. So we can literally reimagine how we move Los Angeles by using the L.A. River to connect to our major transit stops throughout Los Angeles.

The Frogtown neighborhood has been historically isolated because of the 5 Freeway and the L.A. River. In many ways, it is an island in Los Angeles and so as an island there is an opportunity to really get to know who lives there, what are they interested in, what would they like to see? We know the local businesses. We know the local residents. So it really has that granular level of attention to really understand what people want to see and how can we bring that to fruition. And that is really where I think the Frogtown Elysian Valley neighborhood is special because it is really where all the activity is already happening in many ways and it is representative and is maybe the leading edge of what the L.A. River can mean for a lot of other communities.


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