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Frank Gehry Will Help Make Over The L.A. River, But Not Everyone Is Happy

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A river runs through it (Photo by Tom Fassbender via the Chicagoist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Architect Frank Gehry is helping to create a new plan to redevelop the L.A. River, but not everyone is thrilled about his involvement.

Gehry is now working with L.A. officials to broadly revise the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan. The original plan, which aims to convert the concrete-encased river into an ecologically-sensitive and accessible urban oasis, was approved in 2007 after public input. While no specific details, costs or renderings of the new master plan have been released, sources that have seen it tell the L.A. Times that it includes changes to the design for the entire 51-mile stretch of the river from L.A. down to Long Beach. Gehry's involvement and international clout are expected by many to bring momentum and a bold artistic touch to the river project. However, a group of activists that have long worked to improve the river are not so convinced.

This week, the non-profit Friends of the Los Angeles River, which has long argued for environmental restoration of the river, expressed their concerns about Gehry's involvement in a letter to the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corp. The group explains that the secrecy surrounding Gehry's involvement and lack of public input for the master plan revisions would "undermine our efforts and create confusion among the public and political leadership." The letter expresses their concerns that a top-down approach to land-use planning is the same type of planning that caused the once-freely flowing river to become an unsightly and neglected drainage channel in the late 1930s.

"Last time there was a single idea for the L.A. River it involved 3 million barrels of concrete," explains Lewis MacAdams, environmentalist, poet and leader of the Friends of the Los Angeles River. "To us, it's the epitome of wrong-ended planning. It's not coming from the bottom up. It's coming from the top down."

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The group also worries that the sudden change in plans for the river redevelopment could jeopardize federal funding for the more than $1 billion plan to restore an 11-mile stretch of the river from Northeast L.A. to downtown.

Gehry, who lives in L.A., famously designed downtown's swooping and gleaming Disney Concert Hall, as well as many other recognizable structures from around the world, such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.