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Frank Gehry On His L.A. River Opponents: 'They Should Grow Up'

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The future of the L.A. River has been a hotly-contested issue in the last few months, and it's no wonder why: the river takes up a lot of real estate snaking 51 miles through the San Fernado Valley to the Pacific Ocean, the vast majority of which has been vastly neglected. But now that news of world-famous architect Frank Gehry's involvement in river revitalization plans has been out in the open, many are questioning whether he's the right person for the job.

The New York Times reports on the "ire" that Frank Gehry's position at the helm of L.A. River development has provoked in leaders of other L.A. River restoration groups. Lewis MacAdams of Friends of the L.A. River told the L.A. Times, "Last time there was a single idea for the L.A. River it involved 3 million barrels of concrete. 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."

Those who have been involved in independent L.A. River restoration groups for decades, like MacAdams, feel like they've been betrayed by the city—without them, no one would care about the river at all. And now that Gehry's on board, they believe their own projects and aspirations will be ignored. Julia Metlzer, founder and director of Clockshop, an arts organization based off the river, told L.A. Weekly,"'The river is where it is today because of a community people on the ground putting their time into it...That's why anyone knows there's a river. It doesn't help to have a conversation and for people to feel like they're being left out of it.'"

Steve Appleton, an artist who has attended dozens of meetings involving L.A. River issues, referred to his fellow activists as "river folks," and said that the river has been a vehicle for civic action that will surely be hindered now that Gehry is on board. “The river has brought people together and gotten them to step back from their egos,” he told the N.Y. Times, “And now we have got one of the biggest egos in town dropping on it.”

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Gehry initially assured the N.Y. Times that he wasn't looking for conflict with the "river folks." "I don’t want to get into a catfight," he said. "We’re not trying to take their rights away."

But, then he got a little testy:

"'When you get the kind of blowback from those people that I know and who I thought were smarter than that, you begin to question their integrity...Going forward, do I really want to work with those guys? I’m doing something that’s going to be good and trying to be inclusive, and they are trying to cut me up before I even get out of the gate. That’s not nice. I don’t want to create a fight with them, but they should grow up.'

He leaned forward in his chair. 'Tell them to grow up.'"
Critics of Gehry's work for the L.A. River believe that his celebrity will overshadow the actual mission of the revitalization plan, and his architectural style isn't a right fit, either. But MacAdams told the N.Y. Times that it's not just his celebrity that's an issue, but his inherent lack of understanding of the river, and nature itself: "I don’t think Frank Gehry has been to the L.A. River." Burn.
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Mayor Garcetti defended Gehry, saying that commissioning someone like him would elevate the profile of the river more than local activists could ever hope to do, thus, giving it the attention it deserves. Plus, Gehry has lived in L.A. for 1947; at this point, it's been his home for a long time, too, so give the guy a break. "This is not a hobby of the activists but one of the grand projects of our time," he told the NY Times. "Los Angeles is what made him who he is, and I think in the twilight of his life, he wants to leave a number of things that connect him to his home."

Gehry has been asked to look at all 51 miles of the river, the cost which has been estimated at about $100 million per mile. It's unclear where the funding would come from yet, but Gehry is not being paid for his work on the project.