A Los Angeles politician once said during his campaign that if he were elected, he would paint the concretized river blue to make it more like a river. [1]   Though historically insignificant now, this perspective is symptomatic of many Angelenos’ contemporary views of the LA River.  This landscape has escaped man’s subjection and is now in the realm of the “uncontrolled.” Coincidentally, this has been a political platform for Eric Garcetti to be re-elected as LA’s mayor for 2017, with projects he fully supported such as the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project.  He also secured a $1 Billion budget from Washington D.C. in May 2014 to restore an 11-mile stretch of the river. [2]  

“Taming” the LA River is a paragon of a natural system we attempt to control by use of systems of interventions, including machines.  Despite of our inability to tame such a creature with our direct intentions, we have produced synthetic ecologies as accidental by-products (novel ecologies), which rather than be scorned for their existence, should be seen as the river’s true eco-system (neo-Nature) with vital features that maintain its equilibrium:

• escaped parrots from the now-defunct Busch Gardens [3];

• bat ecologies roosting under bridges, maintaining mosquito population;

• human encampments foraging for plastic bottles to prevent deposition at the mouth of the river;

• and plastic bags lining and strengthening the concrete substrate. [Fletcher, 2008]

Proposed projects to revitalize and “restore” the LA River to an arbitrary point in time will damage the current river that is supported by synthetic ecologies that have naturalized with the concretized channel. As productive beings, in LA and elsewhere, we will continue to manipulate Nature by extracting practical values through hybridizing biological and mechanical systems.

Can landscape designers curate the existing synthetic ecologies of the LA River to mitigate potential and foreseeable eco-systemic failures of the typical restoration projects being proposed?


[1] Blake Gumprecht, The Los Angeles River : Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999)

[2] Richard Simon, “Garcetti Lobbies US for more expensive LA River Project,” (LA: LA Times, May 26, 2014),

[3] California Invasive Species Advisory Committee, The California Invasive Species List, (Sacramento: Invasive Species Council of California, 2010), p. 9.


  Site Visit , December 2015, Image by Leif Estrada

Site Visit, December 2015, Image by Leif Estrada

Aerial Imagery, used with copyright permission from Lane Barden Photography

Overall Urban Analysis: Temporal Morphology - the moving watershed of the LA River + volumetric fluid conveyance and the potential concrete volume that would be stripped off

Temporal Morphology of the LA River and its river basin

Geological Analyses of the LA River

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