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The South 

From Downtown to Long Beach Harbor

Wednesday, Aug 8 2001
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Photo by Leor Levine

Previous stop on river tour Downtown.

IN SOUTH L.A., WHERE THE CONCRETE RIVER CHANNEL EXPANDS TO FREEWAY width, the communities are among the city's poorest, least white, most heavily industrialized, absurdly park-deprived and basically environmentally besieged. The L.A. River Greenway will bring greenery, public space and connectedness to densely populated neighborhoods cut off by industry and manufacturing. It has passionate local advocates -- every single one of the eight cities from Maywood to the Pacific Ocean has launched restoration projects.

The south's very handicaps push it to be creative: Many of the projects model how to create green space from old rail routes, once-industrial lands, utility rights of way. The cities, with few truly big parks, are unusually connection-minded -- a number are using the greenway to anchor entire new networks of greenbelts and bikeways that connect one small park to another.

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If generally poor, South L.A. still draws on key assets: newly repaved county bike paths along most of the river; the hugely energetic Trust for Public Land, which has made this underserved area one of its top priorities nationally; and a large pool of funds from the brand-new Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

Vernon, "founded . . . to serve manufacturing," has 3.5 just heavenly miles of all-industrial riverfront. Alone in the south, the city (with only 155 full-time residents) has no plans to green the river.

The new 7.3-acre Maywood Riverfront Park more than doubles the existing park space -- 5.8 acres, two blocks' worth, for 30,000 people -- in a city that's park-deprived even by South L.A. standards. An industrial spot now being cleaned up, it's a grassy acre so far, with sports fields and a possible community center to come. (ETA rest, start 2002)

The Bell River Gateway Project (Bell has just 11 acres in parks) has created two formal planted entryways to the L.A. River Bikeway, and will add a third. (ETA 2002)

The projects in Bell Gardens, Cudahy and South Gate will create greenbelts and bikeways that connect these cities and major parks on the Rio Hondo and L.A. River.

Cudahy (13 park acres for 27,000 people) plans to expand downtown Cudahy Park with ball fields, basketball courts and a river walkway. If it wins the funds it seeks to extend the greenway north to Bell, tiny Cudahy could be the first riverside city to green its entire stretch. (ETA 2002)

Bell Gardens technically has no L.A. River frontage, and the new Julia Russ Asmus Neighborhood Park -- with picnic tables, a playground and a basketball court -- doesn't connect to the river yet. But the city plans a spur from the park to a new bikeway, now an unused rail route, that'll bridge the 710 to connect the L.A. River Greenway/Bikeway to John Anson Ford Park on the Rio Hondo. (ETA 2003)

In one big visionary stroke, South Gate plans to connect and re-green the city across its entire width, by converting a barren DWP right of way into the six-mile Southern Avenue Greenbelt and Bikeway, which will run from a new 12-acre park past South Gate Park and to the river. All the way, it'll have playgrounds, picnic areas, ball courts. (ETA start 2001) Right now, there's a new formal entrance to the river, and just-finished Triangle Park, a way station for bikers, offers shade and a fountain.

The county has been sprucing up the newly re-paved LARIO Trail -- a bikeway from the Rio Hondo to the harbor -- with native plants, decorative rocks and rest stops, and location maps to come. A sort of upside to the long-fought project that raised the levee walls here (see Watershed). (ETA finish 2001)

South Gate also plans a 7-acre habitat restoration, with native plants, a pond or wetland, and a loop dirt path from the river. (ETA 2002)

Of all the cities with riverfront, Lynwood has by far the smallest slice -- and it wants to use it to create the city's first nature park, with a pond and a walk/bike trail. It's got the construction funds in hand, and is pursuing negotiations to acquire the land from Caltrans. (ETA, if, 2002)

Hollydale Regional Park is the northernmost of three long, narrow, grassy 1970s parks right by the river -- with new access ramps to the bikeway. South Gate wants to add formal river entrances here. It's got playgrounds, sports fields and basketball courts now, and it'll get a new community center and gym.

Ralph C. Dills Park -- formerly "Banana Park" -- has picnic tables, a playground, a basketball hoop, lots of grass. Paramount (with a scant 46 park acres) is converting a manufacturing site into an entrance and rest area for the park and the bikeway, and wants to build an entrance at the north end, too.

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