Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day 2014: Local Artists Answer The Call For Funding LA River Revitalization

by Ingomar Schoenborn, Quilt staff


Celebrated in film, television, and perhaps most famously, song, the Los Angeles River has long been an integral part of the culture of the flavor of the lifestyle of Los Angeles culture. 

“You can’t separate Los Angeles from its river,” Mark Twain famously once said, “But you can build a bunch of chain link fences around it and do your darndest to choke it out with concrete.”  And Twain knew - he spent two frustrating years on it, piloting a riverboat up and down an 8’ wide channel between Vineland and Tujunga.

The glorious LA River as seen from the Owensmouth Bridge. Staff photo.
Some say the river herself is as much a born-and-bred LA celebrity inextricably linked with our great city as, say, beloved stars Mel Gibson or Justin Bieber; a sprawling, hallowed landmark that traces a jagged path across the cityscape like the spiderwebbing varicose veins on the bestubbled thigh of an enormous, unpleasant woman suffering from diabetes and a litany of other health issues as she stands in front of you in line, opening, eating and quickly discarding the wrappers of discounted Easter candy at Dollar Tree while arguing with someone named Frankie on her Nokia Lumia 1520 and fishing her EBT card out of her purse to pay for a three-liter bottle of Shasta tiki soda. 

But unlike the legs of a dollar store shopper, damage to the LA River is somewhat reversible and local government is now forging inroads towards making the waterway less of an eyesore. 

 What better place for a revitalization of the LA River than at its official start, right here in Canoga Park?  And who better to get that revitalization underway than the LA River Revitalization Corporation, Friends of the LA River, the LA Department of Water & Power, the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, the City of Los Angeles, the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, the US Army Corps of Engineers, The Dr. Morris & Mimi Detzer Foundation, Los Angeles County Flood Control District, the California Coastal Commission, and viewers like you?

And when better to celebrate it than today, Earth Day?

What’s more, the project is already well underway. Those heading north on Owensmouth right before Bassett, in the tight knit Bassmouth neighborhood, may have recently noticed something different just as they cross the LA River bridge (if they’re not too busy aggressively jockeying for position as one of two northbound traffic lanes disappear):  Where there once were difficult-to-scale, pants-tearing fences posted with “Public Access Prohibited” and “No Trespassing” signs now stand handsome stone-studded gateways welcoming the public to bike, jog, and leisurely avoid dog doo along the newly opened and partially landscaped river-adjacent thoroughfare.

Perhaps awaiting an unveiling ceremony, signage along the recently opened ex-
panse of greenway remains covered, but the public is welcome to stroll along the
LA River's breathtaking and scenic headwaters here in Canoga Park. Staff photo.

Bundles of PVC pipe strewn alongside the river's north pathway indicate landscaping continues, and what is now a dry, arid, dusty brown walkway will likely soon be transformed into a lush tropical forest, not unlike numerous images seen in river revitalization proposals used to sell the project. Can abundant wildlife - macaws, tapirs, perhaps a jaguar or two - be far behind, making the ecosystem complete?

Hardy plants such as this Queen Anne's Lace
were chosen because they don't require much
water or to even be planted properly. Staff photo.
Such an ambitious undertaking is certainly not without its costs, and thankfully, Canoga Park’s elite have answered the call. Artists from the area have sponsored various sections of the newly-installed retaining wall in advance of its official opening, making our section of  the river definitively Canoga Parkesque.

Local artist 'Dmak' shows his love for the community by
sponsoring this section of the new Greenway. Staff photo.

At least half a dozen art installations complement the brand new retaining walls along our newest public promenade - and sources expect there's more to come. "We really owe it to our wonderful local artists who gave of their time, talent, and spray paint to help make the Greenway a little less brown," says head of the Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council's neighborhood beautification committee Donald Culross. "We anticipate most of the drab, pristine brickwork will be covered with similar artwork within six - eh, two months."

This ambitious - and as yet unfinished - masterpiece flocks
a section of the south side of the walkway. Staff photo.
A map and guide to the individual pieces will eventually be available in downloadable PDF format on many of the river revitalization partners' websites as well as on the LAPD's gang identification page. "But you'll want to come back and revisit the Greenway often," Culross advises. "New pieces will be added on an ongoing basis, in many cases replacing some of the older ones. Art is not static."

Despite the title "F_ck What You! Say! It's My Art," by an unidentified local artist,
works like this can be appreciated by the entire community - indeed, art is for all. Staff photo.
A marvelous celebration melding local culture, reclaiming underused outdoor spaces, and promoting a "greener" way of living, the new walkway, flocked by its progressive and in some cases, provocative art is a wonderful "Earth Day present" from the city with a riverful of civic pride, Canoga Park!

Correction: Mark Twain died in 1910, twenty-eight years before the concrete encasement, or concresement, of the L.A. River. We regret the error.

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