Guest Post: The Living River

Summer is the time to relax, kick back and for me, ignore this blog that I swore I would work on all summer long.  I am ever the procrastinator.  Which is why one week before classes start again, I’m here, hoping to write all those posts I had planned.

So to make up for my laziness (or to continue it, depending on how you see it), I’ll start off my comeback with a guest post.  This post will follow along the lines of the previous one “Why I Love LA” by Enedina Cisneros.

This post is by another LA native who has a passion for geography, GIS and the LA River.

So here is why my fellow geographer Andy Bradford loves the LA River:


All photos by Andy Bradford.

Welcome to the Los Angeles River.

Not most people’s image of our city’s largest river, right?

This is what most people think of the Los Angeles River:


This is the River under the 6th Street Bridge near Downtown LA. If you’ve seen Grease or Terminator 2, you’ve seen it. It’s one of the most filmed locations on the River, and it’s not hard to see why. The River in its concrete straitjacket makes a rather impressive landscape of concrete and water. Great for high-speed chase or race scenes, but not something anyone wants in their backyard. This is most people’s view of the entire LA River: polluted water and trash on top of miles of concrete. A glorified drainage ditch, or an open-air sewer, depending on one’s prejudices.

It’s an understandable view, given that most of the river is imprisoned in concrete. And there’s a very good reason for that – the LA River, in its natural state, was a monster that caused enormous damage to the city in several floods up through the 1930s.

I’ve heard guffaws and noises of disbelief at this piece of history. A shallow river in a dry landscape, where’s the threat? Why spend so much time and effort and money to pave over a creek?

A shallow river, flowing across a flat marshy plain, can be terribly unpredictable if it receives a large amount of water at once. And the Los Angeles River, fed by three mountain ranges (San Gabriel, Santa Monica, and Santa Susana) can gain a torrent of water from a heavy rain. The River changed its mouth several times between the San Pedro Bay and the Santa Monica Bay, several miles apart. Imagine building a city on a river that’s changing its course, by miles, every year, with no way to determine in advance where it would go. Add in the unpredictable and expensive floods, and the concrete imprisonment of the river makes sense. The historic Angelenos were terrified of their watery neighbor, and the Army’s concrete channelization was an attempt to put the river into fixed boundaries, and ensure that its flooding would not again endanger the city.

Fast forward four score years, and the River is largely perceived as a polluted eyesore, except where it’s allowed to trade its concrete for a grass skirt:


This is the Glendale Narrows, a three-mile stretch of the River near Griffith Park where the bottom of the River isn’t concrete, but mud, allowing plants to grow from the riverbed.


And not just cattails and reeds, but bushes and full-out trees.


The plants and the riverbed support small fish, ducks, geese, and egrets, a wildlife experience that you’d never expect out of the LA River.


There’s still trash in the river, though – this is still the LA River.

But as the River winds its way through communities that are terribly underserved with parks and green space, we have an opportunity as a city to reform our river.

Imagine the entire river in a green party dress, a belt of green space 51 miles long.

Imagine an entire river that looks like this:


Imagine a river that’s neither a threat nor a nuisance, but a living breathing asset.

We don’t have to imagine it.  We can do it.

A collection of nonprofits are working toward revitalizing the river for all of Los Angeles:

Friends of the LA River –

LA River Revitalization Corporation –

Andy Bradford is a student at California State University Long Beach, studying geography, urban planning, and working on a fantasy novel set in Los Angeles.


3 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Living River

  1. Pingback: Summer Special #2: Nisei Week in LA | GeoMaster

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