Archive for the ‘Green and Recreational Space’ Category

Los Angeles River Bike Path Bridge

The Los Angeles River is quite different from the typical image we get when thinking about a river. It is generally dry during the summer and fall and has heavy flows during the rainy and wet seasons. The floods of this river have killed more people in LA than from earthquakes. The daunting 100 year flood, a series of floods that extended from 1835 to 1938, ended with a particularly destructive  year of flooding in the 30s that compelled the government to pave the LA River with concrete. This would help channel water quickly out of the valley to the Pacific Ocean to avoid heavy flooding from occurring during rainy seasons. As environmentalists feared, the water surging into the ocean escaped so fast that it backsplash into the river, thus destroying the rivers natural ecosystem. City officials and scientists quickly took action in slowing the river flow by ‘naturally’ greening the center with artificial islands of typical river vegetation.

Aside from its actual purpose, the Los Angeles River is the longest park in the San Fernando Valley. The usable recreational area begins in North Hollywood which stretches to downtown LA. Although the river is not for swimming, there are bikeways, pedestrian paths, and horse trails on the riverbanks. There are several parks which sit along the river which pedestrians can access from the river bank paths. Further south toward Atwater, the riverbank has its own little yoga and stretching park. Even recently, in 2005, the Ad Hoc River Committee proposed a 20 year plan to revitalize the river, and would get funding from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Public Works-Bureau of Engineering. This was called Revitalization Master Plan which would attempt to make the Los Angeles River a “front door” to the City, and support a multitude of civic activities. The proposal within 18 months quickly assured the health of the river, along with protecting wildlife. Today, a group called “Friends of the Los Angeles River” (FoLAR) has been backing this proposal, promoting the creation of a wildlife passage from the mountains to the ocean.


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San Fernando Valley View from Griffith Park
San Fernando Valley View from Griffith Park

The San Fernando Valley is about 500 square miles of Southern California. Initially it was a flat region with parts existing under sea level. Millions of years of plate tectonics shifted and encircled the region with the San Gabriel, Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains. The San Fernando and Santa Susana Passes sent water to the ocean through the Cahuenga and Verdugo Passes. The water surging through these passes later dried up leaving only one source: what we now call the Los Angeles River. Though dry and desert like, Los Angeles County actually has a particular type of Mediterranean climate, similar to that on the west coast of Australia and the east coast of South America. This temperate climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean is what helped settlers develop Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley from dry grassland to an artificial green city.

During the Spanish and later the Mexican periods from 1776- 1847, the San Fernando Valley was divided between the mission and the ranchos.  The mission and the ranchos used the land for farming and ranching, changing the environment to a controlled landscape. This meant that land was now irrigated and the water was used for the purpose of growing crops and drinking. Portola first named the plain the “Valley of Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos” (Falzarano, 7).

Modernization of the San Fernando Valley took place when it became a part of the United States in 1850. During the transition from Mexican to American rule, the San Fernando Valley was sold and divided between the north and south. During the 1870’s the southern half (today known as Van Nuys, North Hollywood, Reseda, and Canoga Park) was turned into a wheat farm. The other half of the valley had a quite different purpose, “As for the northern part of the valley, Senators George K. Porter and Charles Maclay set their sights upon it, but for very different reasons. Porter was a rancher and saw the valley as the ‘Garden of Eden,’ while Maclay saw maps and colonization”( Falzarano, 7). The Garden of Eden was exactly what they had made. The Valley was subdivided and sold with properties as farm lots which grew citrus fruits, olives, figs, grapes, peaches, and even walnuts and almonds ( Falzarano, 6).

By 1900, Los Angeles was a growing metropolis with a population of 200,000 people. As the city grew, the city’s own water source was running out. The valley in particular was desperate for water to irrigate its crops. Olive and Orange tree orchards were one of the most common fruits grown. Water was imported from Owens Valley in central California and the aqueduct came to Los Angeles through the San Fernando Valley, which encouraged the San Fernando Valley residence to annex their towns to Los Angeles County.  The farming boom helped the economy of Los Angeles develop fast, which caused urban sprawl in the San Fernando Valley. The need for green and recreational space became more apparent as the Valley gained population.  As the population of downtown increased, the valley quickly transformed from farmland to a suburb. The Valleys vast space and small towns was an opportunity for homebuyers to live close to downtown but without the concentrated hustle and bustle of the city. The city master planned many parks and recreational places during that time to accompany the vast residential areas, the most prominent one being the front and black of a suburban tract house. In the 1920’s 600,000 subdivided lots were put for sale in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. The Valleys setbacks and zoning restrictions allows every home owner to have their own private green and recreational space. These lawns required heavy maintenance and tons of gallons of imported water. By the 1950’s, typical image of a backyard in the Valley was seen as a jungle of exotic tropical plants and pools.

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Green Valley

A quick look into the environmental history of the San Fernando Valley will show you the amazing changes it has undergone. In its American history it went from a land filled with farms, to industries, and then homes. Most importantly, the Valley transitioned from an area that was green and open, to one used as agricultural farmland, and finally to what might be described as a concrete valley. Over the course of the 20th century, many resources were used to build and develop the Valley, but reservations for green space was neglected. In the 1920’s the developers subdividing the Valley all wanted to maximize profits on their land. As a result, the Valley developed with a disappointing lack of parks, green space or any decent public areas. The developers ignored the advice of city officials to designate parklands for their subdivisions and, by 1928, parks took up a mere 0.6% of the City. While the opportunity to create more livable communities was abandoned because landowners in the Valley did not want to pay for the creation of a park system, the Depression followed by the Second World War ended all hope of funding any such model for greenspace.

Early ValleyToday, more attention is focused on realizing the need for public recreational areas and green space. Recently there have been many community movements to try and “re-green” Los Angeles and the Valley. Community ownership of the River “re-greening” efforts is crucial to its transformation from an ignored drainage ditch to the celebrated heart of a new California urban state park, according to Joanna Miller of the Trust for Public Land. In 2000, Governor Gray Davis designated the Los Angeles River Parkway as a state park and allocated $88.5 million from the 1999 $2.1 billion parks bond for its creation. The designation was a landmark move in “re-greening” the urban waterway. In 1996, the Los Angeles County’s L.A. River Master Plan called for bike paths, walk ways, a 65 acres park in northeast L.A., a 20 acre park in Long Beach, pocket parks, rest areas, historic displays, shops, restaurants, tree plantings all to be created along the River’s near 52 mile stretch, and this funding can help make the plan a reality. Larry Kaplan, director of the Los Angeles Trust for Public Land field office, says that “the region has great swaths of open space, but millions of people, particularly low income people, never see them because they can’t get to them.” The Trust for Public Land, therefore, is committed to providing green space in 13 cities along the River that constitute some of the most dense urban communities in California–some of which are located in the Valley. The Los Angeles River Parkway is intended to rival San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and New York City’s Central Park.


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The population in Los Angeles is expected to increase by 2 million by 2012, and since Los Angeles residents are already in need of open space and recreational areas in high density, low-income neighborhoods, there is no way to accommodate the expected growth unless action is taken. This is why the Trust for Public land is launching its first major metropolitan Greenprinting initiative in Los Angeles. The TPL stated that “Greenprinting is a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to land conservation through which park making and community renewal can measurably improve the quality of life for residents in urban neighborhoods underserved by parks and recreation opportunities.”

Most of the city’s parks and open spaces are located in the group of city, regional, state, and national parks in the mountains separating the Los Angeles basin from the San Fernando Valley, mostly inaccessible to a large percentage of L.A. residents. Los Angeles is more than 50% below the parks-to-people ratio of 10 acres per thousand residents recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association. Although overall Los Angeles has 4.2 acres per thousand residents (the national average for high-density cities), in neighborhoods where a majority of the population has a household income less than $25,000 or for which a majority of the population is non-white, the density of parkland falls to as low as 0.3 acres per thousand. The issue is one of equity since all residents want and need access to parks.

The TPL claims that Greenprinting addresses open space and broader “quality of life” needs for a community such and education, leverages funds from public sources with new sources of funding including private philanthropy, corporate funding, and foundation support, utilizes “best practice” case studies from around the nation, highlighting cost-efficient, successful park programs that involve local input, engages a diverse group of community leaders, activists, and residents in designing and developing playgrounds and open spaces, and involves community members in becoming stewards of their parks and by extension in issues affecting quality of life in their neighborhoods. The Trust for Public Land secured $36 million in California State funding in 2002 to launch the Greenprinting Los Angeles Program. The ultimate goal of the Trust for Public Land is to provide the citizens of Los Angeles with a park within a ten-minute walk of their residence.



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