Big Piece of L.A. River Revitalization Plan Held up

The Architect’s Newspaper writes that a “transformative blueprint” for 150 acres along the Los Angeles River has been held up due to the lack of approval and dedicated funds. While Los Angeles’ city government has given the OK for the 32 mile L.A. River revitalization master plan and aspects of that broader plan are moving forward, one big piece that would tie the restored river to the community, the Piggyback Yard (PBy), is still stuck. PBy, also known as the Los Angeles Transfer Container Facility, may be a key component though, because it’s one of the only riverfront sites where a single large-scale project can work. It’s also owned by just one entity: Union Pacific Railroad. Unfortunately, the railroad doesn’t seem likely to sell the site soon.  

A few years ago, Friends of the Los Angeles River asked a group of landscape architecture and architecture firms, Mia Lehrer + Associates (creator of the broader L.A. River revitalization master plan), Perkins + Will, Michael Maltzan Architecture, and Chee Salette Architecture Office, to volunteer to create a new plan for Piggyback Yard, a vision for a railroad site in a “critical downtown junction.” The group forged their plans in conjunction with the local government and the community.

 A year later, the group released a plan that aims to “replace the river’s concrete bottom with a soft riverbed, reintroduce plants and wildlife, and set the stage for educational, cultural, commercial, health care, and minor industrial buildings. The midsize structures would include green roofs and photovoltaic panel arrays. Building vertically means more space for the proposed 130-acre public park, which would include soccer fields, sports amenities, walking and biking paths, and a botanical garden.” Jessica Varner, an architect from Michael Maltzan Architecture, added that the project would “bridge, through architecture and landscape design, the gap between isolated neighborhoods and districts.”


Union Pacific has recognized the site is used “below capacity,” but may be worried about giving up such valuable property. Environmental requirements and real estate prices may also make finding an alternative site very costly. While Union Pacific still considers its options, pieces of the broader plan are moving forward.

Perhaps to help meet the E.P.A’s water quality requirements, the Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to fund a “Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by 2012. Part of the area being studied for restoration and flood control is a stretch of river adjacent to the PBy.” In addition, L.A.’s plans for a high speed rail and clean tech corridor (see earlier post) may also involve the site.

Mia Lehrer, FASLA, told The Architect’s Newspaper the plan is still only part of an “ongoing investigation” about the potential of the site also being conducted by county, city and high speed rail officials. In an interview last year, she said the broader riverfront area is being considered as a site for both high speed rail lines and stations as well as the core ecological restoration and urban redevelopment work. Striking a balance may be tricky: “A high speed rail project has been proposed for California. It happens to coincide downtown with areas that are considered very sensitive for the L.A. River. We now have this tension between high speed rail and river benefits. Ideally, there will be an opportunity to make sure these two projects make the best out of the situation. Whatever dollars there are to implement should actually benefit the community. Hopefully, it’s not an either/or situation but a plus, plus situation for the city.”

Read the article.

Also, learn more about the PBy plan, the broader L.A. River revitalization master plan, and check out an interview with Mia Lehrer, FASLA, the landscape architect behind the new vision of a sustainable river community in L.A.

Image credit: (1) PBy concept / PBy  (2)  Riverfront view / Perkins + Will

One thought on “Big Piece of L.A. River Revitalization Plan Held up

  1. Bill Wenk 01/20/2011 / 3:35 pm

    I’d like to clarify roles, and provide a more complete list of firms involved in the development of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan referenced in the article.
    The planning team was led by Tetra Tech Inc.; primary planning and landscape architectural consultants included: Wenk Associates, Inc., responsible for River corridor planning concepts; Civitas, Inc., responsible for urban design and redevelopment planning; and Mia Lehrer Associates, responsible for corridor recreation planning. A number of other firms were involved to coordinate the public process, and to provide expertise in a number of specialized other disciplines.

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