I still remember the first time I saw the Los Angeles River.

It looked and smelled like a sewer, walled-in by concrete and lined with garbage, beer cans, shopping carts and mattresses. A chain link, barbed-wire fence surrounded both sides, not that anyone would ever want to get down closer to it.

Not surprising, I guess, for a city with such a history of Paving Over Everything, but still a shock to a transplanted New Englander. I only knew cities that grew up around rivers because they provided for them, not any that grew near rivers in spite of them.

Due to a series of massive floods in the early and mid 1900s, Los Angeles and Orange Counties went through an expensive and lengthy surgery, courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rivers were dammed, banks were filled in with concrete, and in the end we were left with quite possibly the ugliest urban river in America. Hooray.

Los Angeles, in its Infinite Wisdom, finally noticed that just about every other city with a river integrates it into its infrastructure, making parks, centralized living and commercial spaces, and generally pleasant, unifying urban areas. Now we want that, instead.

End Pavement links to an L.A. Times story about a new $2 billion plan to tear down the concrete and turn our glorified drainage ditch into “one of the city’s most treasured landmarks.”

Or, visually, from this:

to this:

The plan would also raze many nasty industrial and abandoned areas along the river and replace them with small, dense residential and commercial neighborhoods and public gathering spaces, which are sorely lacking in the current sprawl.

Obviously, the price-tag and timeline (25 to 50 years for full completion) seem steep, but the potential to drastically change the very makeup of Los Angeles for the better is unbelievable. Much of the money needed has yet to be secured, but the Times points out the plan has some serious political momentum behind it. Most of the City Council supports it, as does Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who launched Million Trees L.A. last year.

And anything that makes L.A. even a tiny bit greener is alright by me.

If you’re into official city documents, you can read the full plan in PDF format here.

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