November 7, 2001: Class Notes
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MacAdams 66 used wire cutters to gain access to the Los Angeles
River 15 years ago. Today, the poet and performance artist, who once created
a totem with the rivers detritus, continues to hold the fence open
and wave people in.
God, this is filthy,
MacAdams says on a visit to the river, almost apologizing for the garbage
as if it were pooling in his own living room. MacAdams, who founded Friends
of the Los Angeles River in 1986, is trying to transform the watercourse
into something closer to a riparian habitat and, in the minds of Angelenos,
into, well, a river.
Seen from the freeway, which
is how most people view it, L.A.s river is a gutter that races the
sweat of the city to the ocean, a 51-mile channel fortified against flooding
by the Army Corps of Engineers and 17,000 pavers who needed work during
the Depression. Most of the rivers bottom is paved, and its steep
banks are made of concrete. Instead of rocks, the Los Angeles River has
shopping carts. Empty beer bottles bob like ducks in the water.
MacAdamss group of preservationists,
along with other L.A. environmentalists, have celebrated major victories
in the last year, securing a railroad yard along the banks for parkland
and bringing about a landmark order from the Regional Water Quality Control
Board to keep litter out of the river. Friends of the Los Angeles River
is involved in a number of other projects, including leading clean-up
missions and guiding nature walks. And MacAdams has commissioned gates
to newly created bike paths that are more welcoming than the chain-link
fence he and two friends clipped 15 years ago to stage their first performance-art
piece. He visits the river almost daily to jog or show its nonhuman
life-forms to his young children.
Its becoming a
kind of classroom, MacAdams says. With other, more established environmental
groups now taking an interest in the river, his organization is looking
for its place, choosing to focus on testing the water quality, developing
a curriculum of river studies, and lobbying for converting all open space
along the river into public land.
Massie Ritsch is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
By Massie Ritsch 98