Rethinking Urban Borders and Boundaries through the Los Angeles River Revitalization Movement

Authors: Elana Zilberg*, UCSD
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: socio-spatial racism, environmental justice, urban infrastructure, eco-gentrification,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Studio 7, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The paper focuses on the Los Angeles River-- its historical erasure and contemporary revival, and the role of Latino urban comunities therein. Beginning in the 1940s, the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers converted the river into a concrete flood control channel. The cement trench would come to denote racial, cultural and economic divisions between the working class Eastside and the more prosperous Westside, and the river would come to serve as a metaphor for the marginalization and denigration of Mexican American East LA. Most Angelenos had, until recently, forgotten about the river, or spoke of it pejoratively. For Eastsiders, however, the river remained a central part of their sense of place in and cognitive mappings of the city. Over the last 30 years, environmental and environmentmental justice activists have successfully gained the attention of city, county, state and federal agencies in their work to revitalize the river and its watershed. The river flows through many distinct communities. Environmentalists argue that the river can serve as a conduit uniting the fractured urban landscape and as a vehicle for social, economic and environmental change. Environmental justice advocates fear that the current landgrab around the river will result in eco or green gentrification (Peterson 2012, Wolch 2014). I examine these competing claims from the vantage of working class Latino communities living along the urban industrial corridor of the river and Latino community-based organizations mobilized around the river.

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