The LA River Field Guide, which was just released a few weeks ago, features "Departures: LA River," an interactive collection of interviews, video, maps, and imagery. Juan Devis, Director of Production & Program Development at KCET, is the the brains behind this multimedia approach. He wanted to give people access to an "aesthetic visual grammar" for what Devis calls the "vast contradictions of the Los Angeles River." "Departures" also contains guides for horseback riding, biking, and walking along the banks of the much-maligned, often misunderstood waterway.
For many Angelenos, the river is an unwelcoming place with a bad reputation to boot. But to Devis, the LA River Revitalization Corporation, and other groups who collaborated on the LA River Field Guide, the river is already an ideal place for picnics, photography, community events, and sightseeing. If efforts to redevelop and "re-green" the river push through, there's no telling the kind of unifying force it could be for our sprawling, disjointed, and marvelous metropolis.
Slideshow captions courtesy of KCET's Egret Park, Elysian Valley guide, one of the many mapped paths found in the LA River Field Guide. Photos by Huffington Post. Interview with Juan Devis continues below.
Huffington Post: What role does the LA River play in unifying the metropolis right now? What role could it play if efforts to revitalize the river push through?
Juan Devis: The LA River, like the Venice boardwalk, could be a leveler, linking communities of diverse social, racial and economic backgrounds together. If revitalizations efforts pull through, the Los Angeles River could transform the city in ways that we cannot anticipate.
HP: Is the LA River a joke to most Angelenos? What are some of the most common misconceptions you encountered when compiling your guide?
JD: Last week my daughter’s 2nd grade class went for a River School Day Clean Up and many parents at the school did not understand why we would do such a thing. For many people, the river is still (and only) a flood control channel, a system of drains, a movie backdrop and safe haven for heroin addicts. For me, the river is a post-industrial fact of LA where everything –- good, bad and ugly -- coexist as one.
HP: The LA River has long been used as the set of films, music videos, commercials, and fashion shoots. What do you think is the attraction of the vast expanse of concrete and murky water?
JD: When you are down at the river you feel safe; there’s a different sense of scale down there, you are physically and physiologically below the city. And the concrete creates an industrial desert zone, which in a way is magical.
HP: Does the LA River represent Los Angeles?
JD: Los Angeles was founded where it is because there was a river running through it. The Tongvua Indians nourished in it, the Spaniards where delighted by it’s abundance and beauty. In the 20th century we gave our back to it. Now it’s time to re- claim the river.
JD: If LA residents begin to see the river as a resource we will be able to change our built environment as much as our social environment. This guide is a tool for people to recognize the river as part of the social tissue of our city and themselves.