The L.A. River Banks on Smart Development


Concept rendering of Piggyback Yard development along L.A. River

Concept rendering of Piggyback Yard development along L.A. River

When poet Lewis MacAdams founded Friends of the Los Angeles River 25 years ago – imagining a lifelong art project to return the bedraggled waterway to greatness and greenness – to some he might have seemed out to lunch. Now we know he was ahead of his time. (I have the distinction of writing the first-ever article about FOLAR; it was for Los Angeles Downtown News.) Witness the new Piggyback Yard plan. MacAdams has enlisted three top architecture firms to create a plan that not only creates green space along the Los Angeles River, it also performs a crucial flood-control role. The idea, reported in the New York Times, “is that on a few days each year, the river would overflow into the yard. The rest of the year, the land would be a park.” This flood-detention aspect is brilliantly essential to comprehensive revitalization, because flood-control was the reason for encasing the river in ugly, community-dividing concrete more than 50 years ago.

The architecture firms are Michael Maltzan Architecture, Perkins + Will and Chee Salette Architecture Office, along with landscape architect, Mia Lehrer. Their plans include a park with soccer fields; miles of paths for walking, running and biking; nature trails; an orchard; a sculpture garden; playgrounds; picnic areas; and large, earth-formed gathering spaces. And the proposal makes room for significant live/work housing and commercial development. That’s both visionary and practical. Best of all, they created a beautiful website to explain it all.

Now, if only they can get Union Pacific Railroad to give up the land.

— Jack Skelley


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