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Culture in Concrete: Art and the Re-imagination of the Los Angeles River as Civic Space

Culture in Concrete: Art and the Re-imagination of the Los Angeles River as Civic Space

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Published by John Arroyo
>ABSTRACT
The Los Angeles River is the common physical, social, and cultural thread that connects many of Los Angeles’s most diverse and underrepresented communities, the majority of which comprise the River’s downstream corridor. It is a valuable resource that crosses boundaries of race, class, and human and physical geography. Once a natural and alluvial river, a series of devastating floods led the Army Corps of Engineers to pave the 51-mile River with concrete in the 1930s. The River has been forgotten, abandoned, degraded, and largely misunderstood by many ever since.

Artists have taken to the River as a creative venue. Their actions have re-defined the River and have allowed us (and impel us) to re-imagine the River as the civic space that Los Angeles is desperately seeking, but has yet to find, despite many unsuccessful and grand attempts.

This thesis examines the patterns, motivations, and history behind over 40 largely unheralded art projects over a 20-year period along the River’s Glendale Narrows, Lower Arroyo Seco, and downtown Los Angeles segments. It illustrates why generations of artists representing all creative disciplines have been inspired to engage with the River’s concrete form and abandoned nature. From photography to site-specific dance, poetry to new media, these artists have reveled in the un- designed, un-planned, and the spontaneous nature of the River space. They have expressed themselves through place-based work, most of which has been independent of any formal urban planning, urban design, or public policy support or intervention.

While this thesis acknowledges contemporary master planning efforts currently underway to transform the River, it makes a case for the power of underrepresented groups (artists) to create value outside of traditional, formal, and normative urban planning and design interventions reliant on government support, public-private partnerships, and corporate interests. Furthermore, this thesis considers popular critiques and previous interpretations of civic space in Los Angeles. It reviews Los Angeles’s transition from a once mobile, accessible, and largely homogenous city to one of the world’s most diverse and park-poor metropolises without a strong civic space. This thesis provides examples of the Los Angeles’s recent and future attempts to create civic space in downtown Los Angeles and offers alternatives from domestic and international cases reflecting the principles of landscape urbanism, everyday urbanism, and temporary urbanism.

By engaging with the River as space for critical human and cultural expression, the research in this thesis suggests that artists are offering key insights for how to plan, design, and re-imagine the Los Angeles River as civic space.

>COPYRIGHT
Submitted to the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning on May 20, 2010 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master in City Planning            
    
>AWARD
MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), "Outstanding Master in City Planning Thesis Award, 2010"
>ABSTRACT
The Los Angeles River is the common physical, social, and cultural thread that connects many of Los Angeles’s most diverse and underrepresented communities, the majority of which comprise the River’s downstream corridor. It is a valuable resource that crosses boundaries of race, class, and human and physical geography. Once a natural and alluvial river, a series of devastating floods led the Army Corps of Engineers to pave the 51-mile River with concrete in the 1930s. The River has been forgotten, abandoned, degraded, and largely misunderstood by many ever since.

Artists have taken to the River as a creative venue. Their actions have re-defined the River and have allowed us (and impel us) to re-imagine the River as the civic space that Los Angeles is desperately seeking, but has yet to find, despite many unsuccessful and grand attempts.

This thesis examines the patterns, motivations, and history behind over 40 largely unheralded art projects over a 20-year period along the River’s Glendale Narrows, Lower Arroyo Seco, and downtown Los Angeles segments. It illustrates why generations of artists representing all creative disciplines have been inspired to engage with the River’s concrete form and abandoned nature. From photography to site-specific dance, poetry to new media, these artists have reveled in the un- designed, un-planned, and the spontaneous nature of the River space. They have expressed themselves through place-based work, most of which has been independent of any formal urban planning, urban design, or public policy support or intervention.

While this thesis acknowledges contemporary master planning efforts currently underway to transform the River, it makes a case for the power of underrepresented groups (artists) to create value outside of traditional, formal, and normative urban planning and design interventions reliant on government support, public-private partnerships, and corporate interests. Furthermore, this thesis considers popular critiques and previous interpretations of civic space in Los Angeles. It reviews Los Angeles’s transition from a once mobile, accessible, and largely homogenous city to one of the world’s most diverse and park-poor metropolises without a strong civic space. This thesis provides examples of the Los Angeles’s recent and future attempts to create civic space in downtown Los Angeles and offers alternatives from domestic and international cases reflecting the principles of landscape urbanism, everyday urbanism, and temporary urbanism.

By engaging with the River as space for critical human and cultural expression, the research in this thesis suggests that artists are offering key insights for how to plan, design, and re-imagine the Los Angeles River as civic space.

>COPYRIGHT
Submitted to the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning on May 20, 2010 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master in City Planning            
    
>AWARD
MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), "Outstanding Master in City Planning Thesis Award, 2010"

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: John Arroyo on Aug 12, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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