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Compiling the Evidence: Bringing Ideas For the L.A. River To Life

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Students from the Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts are re-imagining the Bowtie Parcel along the Los Angeles River as part of a project entitled, the L.A. River Design Project. Youth Voices is highlighting the student's work and creative process as it connects to our civic engagement and digital media curriculum.

The energy in the room is electric. Students in Mr. Velasco's class are grouped together talking about their presentation and checking their posters one last time. This may be their first presentation of their proposals for their L.A. River Design project, but the teams are taking this extremely seriously. After all, it's not everyday that community members attend student presentations to provide feedback. But this presentation is different, and the students know it. They know that in a short time they will be presenting their proposals at City Hall.

In April students from LFCSA were challenged to design a public use plan for the Bowtie Parcel that sits along the Los Angeles River in Glassell Park. For the past several weeks the students have been learning about and developing ideas for their project, using the design thinking process that began with the question, "Can you imagine an ideal community place in the Bowtie Parcel that is inspiring and inclusive for humans, native plants and animals?" The students jumped into the process by first visiting the location, then meeting with experts on urban planning and design, and recently brainstorming and developing ideas in teams.

Throughout the process students have been encouraged to take their ideas seriously and become problem solvers, innovators, risk-takers, and creators, while making sure that their projects are meaningful to them. They were given eight criteria they had to follow:

  1. Located in the Bowtie Parcel
  2. Inclusive and inspiring
  3. Contributes towards building a community place for people, native plants, and native animal.
  4. Low human footprint
  5. A place for learning, recreation, and interaction
  6. Celebrates nature in the city
  7. Easily accessible
  8. Does not block rail traffic

Community Members

During this stage of the process each of the student teams reviewed the criteria and developed three goals specific to their project (see captions below). They created a poster that would clearly communicate their design ideas for their proposal and simultaneously learned effective presentation techniques. The students were aware that their presentation needed to be inclusive of all their ideas, so that the community members hearing about their projects for the first time could provide valuable feedback that would truly inform their next steps; building a prototype and ultimately presenting them to City officials as possible design concepts for the Bowtie Parcel.

When the day finally arrived for the students to present their proposals, they were ready. Community members in attendance included Ariel Van Pelt from FoLAR, Stephanie Campbell from CA State Parks, Erin Reilly from USC Innovation Lab, Sonny Calderon from Art For L.A. and a LFCSA Parent, Adrine Arakelian, an urban planner, and LFCSA's third grade students. After each team presented their proposal, time was given to the audience to write their feedback on cards, which were later compiled and shared with each of the teams.

Team CowGirls -- Equestrian Area


CowGirls' goals:

  1. As horse friendly as possible.
  2. Clean the trash up.
  3. Community friendly

Special features:

  • Dual path for horses and pedestrians
  • Windmill that emits peppermint odor (horses like peppermint)
  • Water for hourses


  • Where will the horse come from?
  • Will there be stables?
  • Will people be allowed in the area?

Team Green Egrets -- Water Slide


The Green Egrets' goals:

  1. Provides access to the park.
  2. Inclusive
  3. Fun!!!

Special features:

  • Bridge/Steps made of twigs and leaves
  • Slide will start on one side of the river bank and end on the other that way it does not disturb the river ecosystem


  • What materials will the slide be made of?
  • What safety precautions are there for users of the slide?
  • It's a smart idea to start the slide on one side of the riverbank and end on the other side?
  • Where will the water come from?

Team Green Leaf -- Learning Center and Outdoor Movie Theater


Team Green Leaf goals:

  1. Save the L.A. River
  2. Make it entertaining
  3. Make it

Special features:

  • Seating is on one side of the river bank and the screen is on the other side
  • Center has information about the L.A. River


  • Where will the power come from?
  • How do you maintain a low human foot print with the audience?
  • Show movies that give information about the L.A. River.
  • Show movies that take place in the L.A. River.

Team Home for All -- Nature Preserve


Team Home for All goals:

  1. Preserve Nature
  2. Accessible to all
  3. Call attention to the L.A. River

Special features:

  • Native plants
  • No phones allowed
  • Information about the plants and river


  • Make signs that ask people to turn down their phone or put them away.
  • Include an Information Booth

Team Native Garden -- Native Garden


Team Native Garden goals:

  1. Low human foot print
  2. Easily accessible
  3. Celebrates nature in the city

Special features:

  • Native Plants
  • Native garden will be inside the old Round House
  • A concrete trail and a ramp will make it wheel chair accessible


  • How will you stop invasive species?
  • Will someone be taking care of the plants?
  • Will it be a community garden?
  • Why concrete for the path? Could it be a more porous material?

Team When the Lights Go Out -- Solar Powered Park

WhenTheLightsGoOut goals

Team When the Lights Go Out goals:

  1. All solar power ideas must be good for human, plants, and animals.
  2. All solar ideas must have no Industrial footprint.
  3. People should want to visit the park.

Special features:

  • Solar powered clock tower
  • Solar powered air purifier
  • Solar powered flower field
  • Statue (also solar powered)


  • How will you use the extra energy that is created by the solar panels? Power near by houses?
  • Make the statue come to life and give information to visitors?
  • Think about adding information about the solar power in the park and energy conservation.
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