Urban green spaces have historically been more accessible to privileged communities within cities. However, there has been a surge in awareness and activism that calls cities to address the inequity in access to these spaces, as clean air and access to nature is a human right, not only to be reserved by the wealthiest members of society but to all.
The Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Revitalization Plan (ULART) has considered these inequities when forming its plan to “recalibrate natural urban waterways by deploying nature-based solutions to create new community space and help rectify decades of neglect.”
The ULART plan, drafted by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA, stood out amongst the contenders for an international competition commissioned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA). Its comprehensive vision for 300-plus project site opportunities for the Upper Los Angeles River and its tributaries put them in first place for the Urban Design Visions category of the competition, which received more than 1,200 project entries from 57 countries. The impressive ULART plan also received the global 2021 AZ Award from Azure Magazine.
The plan was led by Los Angeles Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, Sarah Rascon of Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and Mía Lehrer from Studio-MLA. Together, their varying skills and specializations came together to create a plan that supports both local communities and the environment. The project seeks to meet the needs of underprivileged populations along the LA waterways and hopes to reverse and prevent the paving of natural spaces. They have instead have arranged for green beltways to be integrated into the surrounding communities.
On top of the 300 opportunity sites that are set to provide open-space amenities for the 625,000-plus residents who live within a half-mile of the river tributaries, the plan will work harmoniously with natural systems to address the historic droughts in the area, aiming to capture 8,695 acre-feet of stormwater per year.
Rascon says that they didn’t devise the plan alone but relied on the feedback from local representatives of municipalities, community leaders, non-governmental organizations, and elected officials from across the Upper Los Angeles River watershed area.
According to AZ Award juror Marc Ryan of Toronto-based design firm Public Work, “this integrated response to climate change via new green infrastructure, as well as the social infrastructure for renewed equity in cities, is urgently needed.”