The concrete lined channel of the Los Angeles River has been making appearances in movies for decades. Most famously from the truck/motorcycle chase scene in ‘Terminator 2’, it’s been a reliable stand-in for something between a generic urban wasteland (at best!) and a dystopian hellscape. The trickle of water flowing through and the lack of nature would make you think the inclusion of “River” in the name is some sort of joke.
But it wasn’t always like this! The 51 mile waterway, stretching from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley, was once a vibrant artery of an earlier LA; teeming with fish and a draw for wildlife, shaded by trees and a freshwater source for the surrounding communities. It was converted to a storm-drain in the 1930’s by the US government and has been a mostly neglected eyesore since.
There’s a movement to restore the natural state of the river and the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) is the organization behind it. They’ve worked 30+ years to bring back life to the river and have made great strides recently along with increased attention and federal funding of development projects. Take a walk along the river and you'll notice pockets of life and a hint of what's possible as it partially returns to a natural state.
FOLAR has helped develop recreational activities along the river’s banks - such as bike paths and kayaking - and been instrumental in converting industrial zones into parks and promoting legislation that would open up the river to the public. Their website is full of resources on how to experience and enjoy the river. Bringing the river back to life is a movement we can get behind.
It's unquestionable that homelessness has grown in recent years in LA. What used to be confined to a limited number of downtown corridors and back alleys has exploded all over the city. It feels like nearly every underpass and far too many parks and vacant properties have become encampments. There are many reasons for the crisis of homelessness - lack of available affordable housing, breakdown of mental health services - and there’s no easy fixes.
While easy to feel powerless to help, as we do, or look away entirely, the Skid Row Housing Trust has been on the frontlines on this since 1989 and never been more relevant. The Trust develops and manages homes for the homeless and provides support services for the community, to break the cycle of poverty, illness and addiction.
The Trust believes that homelessness is a reversible circumstance, and having a safe and secure place to live and a sense of community is the first critical step towards turning oneself around. They currently manage over 2000 apartments in the city and have favorably impacted thousands of lives through their housing and support services. While the Trust alone can’t solve this crisis, if you’re shocked by what you’ve been seeing lately, this is an organization to support.
You can be forgiven if you thought the oldest buildings in LA were from the late 80s. Among the things we’re known for, historic preservation doesn’t rank very high. But between the strip malls and modern developments, LA is remarkably full of architectural history.
As one of many examples, take a walk down Broadway in downtown and look around you - the facades and lobbies of the art deco and beaux-art skyscrapers, the stunning theaters, grand department stores and banks - there’s a rich history here and our Angelino ancestors have left an impressive footprint. Or you go a little more recent and take in the countless mid-century masterpieces that dot our city - from the space-age theme building at LAX to the modernist case study homes in the Hollywood Hills.
While appreciation for the past has grown, it’s not a given that these iconic structures are safe from development and the Los Angeles Conservancy has been leading the charge to protect them against destruction. Recently, they were instrumental in preventing the demolition of the iconic Century Plaza Hotel. Education is also a major initiative of the organization and they engage the public with (highly recommended!) walking tours and events. Their website also has a great resource for mapping historic buildings and exploring LA.
We’re all for LA's growth and development, but not at the expense of our cultural history and the places that give the city its character. Now in it’s 40th year, the Los Angeles Conservancy has been on the frontlines of the movement to preserve our past, for our future.
It’s a generally accepted idea that if disadvantaged kids and teens had something to do that’s productive, they would end up doing that and be less inclined to fall into crime and other things that keep the “advantaged” community up at night. Midnight basketball is a fairly well know program that typifies this thinking.
While much larger in scope and serving far more than just “at risk” kids, a Downtown LA organization called Inner City Arts is doing the same. The group - based in a stunning modern compound worthy of a mention in itself - is a nexus of creativity for underserved LA kids. It contains art studios, performances spaces, state-of-the-art equipment and offers kids a chance to cultivate their skills and imagination while putting time and energy into productive activities.
All types of arts are practiced ands cultivated here, including painting, ceramics, music, dance, drama, animation and much more. The services Inner City Arts provides are broad as well - classes and open studio sessions, summer/weekend programs, training LA public school teachers on arts education, lectures, performances and mentorships with working artists of every visual and performing arts medium.
It’s an amazing organization and beloved by the community it’s touched - over 200,000 kids since it's opened - and serves and as a role model for similar programs throughout the country.
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