On Thursday 3 October we were delighted to visit Los Angeles for a panel discussion on the past, present, and future of the L.A. River, inspired by Vittoria Di Palma and Alex Robinson‘s Places article, “Willful Waters,” and generously hosted by Barbara Bestor at Bestor Architecture.
In their 2018 survey of the epic struggle for control that has defined the city and its river, Di Palma and Robinson argued that “the L.A. River has always resisted something as simple as a solution.” With various projects to revitalize the waterway gathering pace in the last year — and the latest update to the Los Angeles County L.A. River Master Plan published last month — it was a timely moment to revisit the essay, and to consider the proposals that are shaping the latest chapter of the river’s story.
Architectural historian Di Palma and landscape architect Robinson, both faculty members at Places academic partner USC School of Architecture, were joined on the panel by USC historian William Deverell, urbanist and Studio-MLA principal Mia Lehrer, watershed activist Miguel Luna, artist Lou Pesce of Metabolic Studio, and chief deputy city engineer Deborah Weintraub. Provocations from each panelist sparked lively and provoking conversation with the packed crowd at the sold-out event, which included a first look at the implementation stage of Metabolic Studio’s Bending the River Back into the City project — cutting into the river’s concrete channel in order to access water for a wheel that will feed an artificial treatment wetland of native plants.
The wide-ranging discussion explored the civic, environmental, and design lessons to be learned from the history of the river and the questions that designers, policymakers, and citizens should be addressing now and for the future.