Aqueous-Borders and their Fractal Geographies: Part I. Los Angeles River as Racial Infrastructure

Authors: Elana Zilberg*, UCSD
Topics: Political Geography, Environmental Justice, Latinx Geographies
Keywords: Rivers, Borders, Racial Infrastructure, Fractal Geographies, U.S.-Mexico border, Los Angeles, Urban Renewa
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 15
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Rivers are unreliable borders. Shape shifters, their boundaries exceed the spine of their expansive watersheds. Nonetheless, they often also demarcate earthly territorialities manifesting anthropogenic divisions within and between nations and natures. Of these river-borders, within the American Southwest (formerly Mexico), the Rio Grande/Bravo is the most iconic. The Tijuana River, which crosses the geopolitical line between the U.S. and Mexico is another. Less obvious are urban rivers that lie within the territorial boundaries of settler-colonial nation states. The San Antonio and the Los Angeles Rivers are “internal” counterparts to these “external” borders. This paper draws upon and extends the notion of “nature as infrastructure” (Carse 2012) to explore river-borders as “racial infrastructures” (Jana 2016). Whereas each of these rivers have been forced into a concrete straightjacket and/or have been walled off, their geographies nonetheless exceed the efficient linearities of nation-states, and their carceral racial logics. Those geographies, if not fluid, are nonetheless fractal. Their borders both blur and “proliferate” (Mezzadra and Neilson 2013). For instance, the post-1848 international divide was replicated in the political geography of Anglo-American capitalist urbanism (Villa 2000), and in LA, the River served as a potent topographic feature in service to new “imperial metropolis” (Kim 2019). The River’s encasement in a rigid cement trench (1940s–1980s) further exacerbated these divisions (Zilberg 2012). The paper explores the contemporary unsettling of this river-border through its “revitalization,” renaturing and bridging, and the effects these racial infrastructures of urban renewal have for larger fractal geographies through which this river-border proliferates.

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