Today we’re going to start with a short history lesson on one of Los Angeles’ most vital (and most forgotten) landmarks: the Los Angeles River.
For centuries the river, which begins in the San Fernando Valley and ends in the ocean at Long Beach, has supported small communities of indigenous people. In the 1800s, it nurtured hundreds of vineyards and orange groves, and exporting the crops helped spread Southland’s reputation around the world. The city of Los Angeles eventually formed around the river, not along the coast, as it was the region’s source of fresh water.
But the river overflowed frequently. And as Los Angeles grew, development encroached on the river banks, leaving less land open to absorb the overflow. This had disastrous consequences: during a heavy rainstorm in February 1938, the Los Angeles River overflowed and ultimately killed 87 people.
The US Army Corps of Engineers decided to bury the river in concrete to speed up water flow and prevent flooding, a project that was completed in the 1960s. The chain protected the infrastructure of Los Angeles and helped the city become a global megalopolis, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman recently reported in Times Magazine.
“Since 1938, Los Angeles has not suffered a flood as disastrous as that of that year, thanks in large part to the engineering of the canal, which also allowed Angelenos to forget the danger the river posed originally,” wrote Michael, who is the founder of Headway, a Times initiative that aims to explore the world’s challenges through the lens of progress. “Decades after its completion,” he added, “it is the flood channel itself – not the floods it was built to contain – that many Angelenos have come to regard as like disaster.”
In his article, Michael explores a plan to remake the Los Angeles River, an idea with growing support as the waterway is increasingly seen as a blight.
But figuring out exactly how to redesign the river is a daunting task. There are competing demands from some environmentalists, who want the concrete removed; community activists, who fear that any new development will displace poor residents; and engineering experts, who say the risk of flooding remains too high to restore anything like the original river.
Learn more about California
- Jaywalking Law: California has one of the strictest jaywalking laws in the country. From January 1, this will no longer be the case.
- Redo a river: Taming the Los Angeles River helped LA become a global megalopolis, but it also left a gaping scar across the land. Imagining the future of the river poses new challenges.
- A Piece of black history destroyed: Lincoln Heights — a historically black community in a rural, predominantly white county in northern California — has lasted for decades. Then came the mill fire.
- Employee strike: In one of the nation’s largest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, researchers and other workers in the University of California system walked off the job to demand a pay rise.
Michael told me that he became fascinated by the latest river conversations because they compelled leaders to address not only issues of flood management, but also of equity, racial justice, culture, access to green spaces, etc. The debate seems to reflect a new way in which Los Angeles sees itself, he said.
“In a city that for so long seems to have marketed itself as a haven for individual fulfillment, it presents issues that require some sort of collective thinking and action,” he told me. “The river has always been a kind of mirror of Los Angeles.”
what we eat
Orzo salad with peppers and feta.
where we travel
Today’s tip comes from Kathleen Z. Snider, who lives in Pasadena:
“Although I have visited San Francisco countless times, I never tire of the energy and adventure that fills this city. One of my favorite places is Golden Gate Park. The scenery is stunning and the museums are well worth a visit.
Local neighborhoods – Fillmore District, Cow Hollow, North Beach, Pacific Heights, Castro, Union Square, etc. – are a mix of good food and fun shopping. The Presidio is home to the Walt Disney Family Museum, which is filled with treasures from the life of Walt Disney. There is always more to discover. And, if you’re up for some serious walking, this is your town.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
Have you recently purchased or rented a home in California? We want to hear from you.
The New York Times weekly real estate column, The Hunt, features everyday people who have just moved and want to share their stories. If that’s you, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And before leaving, some good news
California’s new Poet Laureate, Lee Herrick, is a community college professor in Fresno.
Herrick, 52, is a writer and professor at Fresno City College and an instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, at Lake Tahoe, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. He was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Modesto as a child.
In naming Herrick as California’s 10th Poet Laureate, Governor Gavin Newsom praised his “spirited celebration” of the California experience.
“Lee’s dedication to highlighting the diverse experiences of Californians and making them so accessible through his poetry makes him an ideal candidate for Poet Laureate,” Newsom said in a statement Friday.
Thanks for reading. I will be back tomorrow. — Soumya
PS Here today’s mini crossword.
Briana Scalia and Steven Moity contributed to California Today. You can join the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
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