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Re-Envisioning the Los Angeles River

From 1999-2000 Re-Envisioning the Los Angeles River was an ambitious project centered on 40 multifaceted events and activities that took place throughout the year. Events ranged from mayoral candidate debates to poetry readings and art exhibits to public walks that introduced Angelenos to the LA River in new contexts. Often framed as a hostile environment, an urban wasteland that posed a threat—environmental and otherwise—to the community, the river was re-examined throughout the year as a community space and a resource for the city. As a result of this project, 15 years later the Los Angeles River remains transformed for Angelenos (or Californians?) from a “concrete coffin” into “a very, very pretty duck,” as journalist Jennifer Price first noted.

“Water is such a powerful statewide issue in its many forms,” and “the debates around water have been technical and obscurantist,” says Project Director Professor Robert Gottlieb. Re-Envisioning the LA River responded to the complex social and political problems embodied in the Los Angeles River by using a humanities-based approach in which “words make action possible,” as Professor Gottlieb describes it. Los Angeles is often a microcosm for what happens across the state. Discussions about the LA River helped to shaped discussions about water throughout all of California.

Primarily a cultural project, Re-Envisioning the LA River bridged the technical and the personal by engaging multiple sectors and multiple publics in critiquing, expanding, and ultimately, transforming the language, images, and concepts available for thinking about LA’s river. {Need to include a quote from Lewis McAdams’ interview}

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