play / 2014
Play the LA River
Please describe yourself.
Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)
In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.
Play the LA River invites Angelenos to explore our 51-mile river thru a year of riverside events, an online community, and a playable guide.
Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?
- Central LA
- East LA
- South LA
- San Gabriel Valley
- San Fernando Valley
- South Bay
What is your idea/project in more detail?
Efforts to revitalize the LA River have been going strong for decades, leading to new greenways and parks and ambitious plans for the future. Yet for many Angelenos, the river remains invisible or inaccessible, or brings to mind Hollywood drag races. Play the LA River is a movement to engage every community from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay and from the Westside to the San Gabriel Valley in exploring, enjoying, and re-imagining the river’s 51 miles. Launching September 13 at the Frogtown Artwalk, this public art and outreach project has three main elements: a first-of-its-kind guide to the LA River designed as a playable card deck; an interactive website and online community; and a year of public events along the entire river.
What will you do to implement this idea/project?
Since 2012, the team at Project 51 has laid the groundwork with our partners to launch Play the LA River this fall around the project’s three main elements.
Our playable card deck is a unique guide to the LA River, which we will disseminate for free at events and via community outreach. With 52 river sites and 4 off-river “wild card” sites all organized into 4 geographic “suits,” the card deck features greenways and parks along with places that river revitalization has yet to touch but that hold meaning for local communities. Each card is both a tool and an artwork––with a custom map, “dashboard” of site features, access instructions, and tips on how to play. The cards also invite Angelenos to share how THEY play the LA River: dance, picnic, skate, juggle, kayak, bird-watch, bike, paint, swing, BBQ, practice yoga, ride horses, play soccer, play music, fly kites, and the possibilities continue! After extensive scouting, we have finished the card deck and will distribute an initial 2,500 this fall.
In collaboration with partners, we are also producing a 51-week series of public events––including a launch extravaganza at the Frogtown Artwalk on September 13, a closing festival in September 2015, and smaller-scale riverside events across all 4 geographic “suits” (Valley, Glendale Narrows, Downtown, and South). For example, LA River Corp will take the lead in producing a “mobile play” series featuring neighborhood scavenger hunts and bicycle theater. In addition to the programs we implement, Play the LA River will do outreach to an array of organizations—from cultural, sports, and youth groups to gamers, performers, and scientists––in order to galvanize diverse forms of play along the river. To support others in organizing their own play programs and to facilitate spontaneous riverside play, we will develop a toolkit in English and Spanish. The toolkit will include practical resources on river access plus illustrative ideas for self-organized gatherings and projects.
Finally, our website will include mobile-friendly versions of the toolkit and cards (complete with interactive maps of our 56 sites), an events calendar, and curated multimedia exhibits featuring select Play the LA River events and projects. Through a community-generated and multilingual “stream” of social media posts, the website will also integrate stories, pictures, recordings, and videos showcasing how Angelenos play the LA River today and how they aspire to play there in the future.
How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?
The “play” in Play the LA River is an invitation to communities across metropolitan Los Angeles to learn about, connect with, and help create a vibrant future for a river that has been hidden for decades but has been coming back to life thanks to revitalization efforts. “Play” runs the gamut from the performing arts to youth sports to game playing. “Play” involves Angelenos in participatory activities that will inspire broad investment in the potential of the LA River to connect, celebrate, and green communities. And “play” taps into the multiethnic and geographic diversity of art, culture, and recreation across LA.
To envision the river as the geographic and social heart of the LA area, Angelenos first have to know that the river exists, where it flows, and how to access and enjoy it. Play the LA River meets these needs through a public programming and outreach project that contributes to ongoing river revitalization projects and that catalyzes wider civic engagement with the development of parks, greenways, wildlife habitats, sustainable water infrastructure, and cultural centers. However, we focus on the LA River not only to widen the involvement of local communities in river revitalization efforts but also to address critical issues in Los Angeles of park space, neighborhood-centered art and recreation, urban sustainability, and environmental justice.
Most LA River advocacy groups have specific geographical and administrative boundaries (such as the City of LA River Revitalization Master Plan and the City of Long Beach RiverLink Plan). As of yet, no organization has connected the entire river through cultural programming. Play the LA River promises to serve this vital role by providing a hub for events and projects along the river’s entire length and by reaching out to thousands of Angelenos who are new to the river and including them in shaping its future.
Whom will your project benefit?
To date, public engagement efforts around the LA River have been significant and often highly creative—beginning with the artists who founded what seemed like an improbable movement in the 1980s. However, public knowledge of the LA River and its revitalization continues to lag behind costly civil engineering and time-intensive policymaking. We strongly believe that to be successful, this innovative civic reengineering project requires collective acts of re-imagination.
Play the LA River encourages Angelenos to get to know the entire river—including its most challenged places that master planning efforts have yet to reach. The project pays special attention to communities who live along the river, while welcoming everyone across the region to participate. The project brings Angelenos of all ages and social groups to 52 river sites––which include bike paths, shady parks with playing fields, public art installations, and quiet spots from which simply to take the river in—so as to make the river more compelling to all. The project in turn builds public support and public dialogue around revitalization plans. By working with riverside communities from Canoga Park to Long Beach to view the river as their essential public space, we hope Play the LA River will empower Angelenos to insist that the revitalization process remains democratic and fulfills promises that the greening of the river will benefit existing communities as well as future residents and visitors.
Play the LA River will ultimately benefit a wide network of groups and individuals in the LA area who focus on river revitalization, park space, visual and performing arts, youth education and recreation, and environmental and social justice. The project will realize these community benefits in part through public programming and in part by awarding stipends to artists, schools, community groups, and other civic-minded folks who are active in river-adjacent communities and who can help to activate play at each of our sites. In tandem, the project website will serve as a virtual river community and living-breathing public art project that will provide unprecedented tools for accessing and navigating the LA River, crowd-sourcing river events, and showcasing the possibilities for playing the river now and in LA 2050!
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
The Project 51 arts collective is one key player in a larger field of groups. Play the LA River has been developed as an umbrella for collaboration, and the project contributes to ongoing projects and invites other groups to play! Our core partners include:
LA River Corp is dedicated to sustainable development and placemaking along the LA River corridor. At the core of its mission is transforming the LA River into a vibrant public space through their LA River Regatta Club (a platform for community engagement and innovative events). LA River Corp is a leading partner in the Play the LA River programming efforts.
artworxLA is an arts program that creatively links overlooked alternative high school students with professional artists, cultural institutions, and communities to produce and present new work. In 2014-15, artworxLA will guide students to create art projects that connect to Play the LA River in 27 alternative arts classrooms throughout LA County. Each 11-week workshop will culminate in a student exhibition and presentations at the LA River Center and Gardens.
The Elysian Valley Arts Collective is collaborating with Project 51, LA River Corp, and MRCA on the Play the LA River launch, which will take place in conjunction with their annual Frogtown Artwalk.
-Clockshop, a nonprofit arts organization based in Elysian Valley, provides cultural programming to activate the as-yet-undeveloped Bowtie Parcel for California State Parks. Clockshop also supports other projects by artists, writers, and civic leaders. Clockshop is collaborating with Project 51 on public engagement events, including campouts, storytelling, and screenings at Bowtie, along the river.
-LA River Expeditions will partner with us on Summer 2015 kayak tours on the river.
Public & Government Agencies:
- Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA) is supporting the project through funding, venue permitting, and access as well as joint programming through their campfire and junior ranger programs.
-The City of LA Bureau of Engineering, which implements the city’s LA River Master Plan, and California State Parks, which oversees the two largest riverside parks, are providing support to the project on access, permitting, and outreach.
-Other collaborators & champions include: UCLA, UC Riverside, Friends of the LA River (FoLAR), River Wild, Boom: A Journal of California, and the EPA-led Urban Waters Federal Partnership.
How will your project impact the LA2050 “Play” metrics?
- Access to open space and park facilities
- Per capita crime rates
- Percentage of residents that feel safe in their neighborhoods
- Residents within 1⁄4 mile of a park (Dream Metric)
- Number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park (Dream Metric)
- Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities (Dream Metric)
- Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)
Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.
“2013 was the first year of the rest of the LA River’s life,” claims Curbed LA. From bridges to bike paths to ball fields to a recreation zone for kayaking, our infamous waterway is undergoing a sea change. Yet, we often hear people admit to not knowing that LA has a river, much less one that is home to over 25 miles of greenway, 30 parks, 200 species of birds, kayaking and fishing opportunities, and diverse neighborhoods.
Facilitating play in all forms, Play the LA River is the first project to engage with the entire river from headwaters to mouth. By identifying 56 sites and highlighting nearby community landmarks, the Play the LA River card deck and website help people access public spaces along and near the river while spurring their imagination on how to play when they get to its banks. Play the LA River also promises to expand the number of Angelenos who feel a sense of community and safety when they visit the river. Today, many Angelenos who live close to the river are within a ¼ mile of a public park but don’t know it. There are also stretches of the river running through park-poor communities that are not yet the focus of revitalization plans but could be with greater public engagement. In this context, Play the LA River makes visible existing park spaces and encourages communities to take active roles in the river’s future.
At the core of our project is a strong commitment to what LA 2050 terms informal and intergenerational play. The Play the LA River card deck, for example, features “play prompts” encouraging people to do activities ranging from playing horseshoes, sey (Cambodian hacky sack), and pick-up soccer to sharing ghost stories, hip-hop moves, and games of Armenian backgammon. These prompts often “play” on the cultural histories of the neighborhood and connect audiences of all walks of life to LA’s diverse cultural heritage. Helping to paint a mural on a mobile art truck or singing silly campfire songs on a grassy riverside knoll are modes of play that connect people of all ages.
Ultimately, Play the LA River is a call to action. The river’s potential to foster a healthier, greener, and more connected LA is indisputable. However, without models of the kinds of recreation, leisure, and creative expression that can happen along its 51 miles, the river will remain elusive and underutilized. Our goal is to help the LA River realize its full potential to be a place for all of Los Angeles to play, learn, create, connect, and live.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project.
We will track the number of card decks disseminated in print and electronic form (through Play the LA River events, core partners, community outreach efforts, and requests via our website).
We will evaluate the geographic reach and participant diversity of Play the LA River programming by conducting brief informal surveys tied to our launch and closing events and tied to at least one event in each of the four geographic areas (or “suits”) over the year.
Through media monitoring of social media, blogs, and news articles, we will track stories about the LA River and about Play the LA River to see if and how the project is affecting the wider river revitalization movement as well as public attitudes toward the river and its cultural and environmental meanings/possibilities. Content analysis of social media and news stories published about the Play the LA River project will provide an understanding of how and to what extent people’s relationships to the LA River are transformed during the project and will also highlight areas for future work.
The social impact connected to the project will be both direct and indirect, and will happen over the short term and the long term. Thus, after the project and on an ongoing basis, we will ask for qualitative feedback from our partners and other groups to assess whether there has been an uptick both in riverside projects generated within communities along the river and in projects aimed at enhancing river access on the stretches that have so far seen very little on-the-ground change.
What two lessons have informed your solution or project?
In recent years, the river revitalization movement has focused on reengineering the river’s infrastructure with respect to storm water management, economic development, real estate development, and ecosystem restoration. Play the LA River takes inspiration from the many artists who have played a major role since the 1980s in river revitalization by defining the LA River not as a concrete channel or ditch but as a riparian ecosystem and rich civic space. Learning from these longstanding efforts among artists working in partnership with grassroots organizations and elected officials, Play the LA River aspires to seed a new generation of river leaders and champions by bringing thousands of Angelenos to sites up and down the river’s 51 miles—and by doing so through play! Along these lines, the project also has learned from three decades of public advocacy and education that the LA River is its own best advocate. Bringing people to its banks is a powerful way to generate public understanding of the river and public investment in its social and environmental futures.
If you look across the globe at how communities are re-inventing their public spaces, you learn that creative collaboration and participatory community engagement are critical for success. Houston’s 12-acre Discovery Green has been a role model to us as an example of how creative programming and engagement can make a park highly utilized by diverse communities. With over 1.2 million annual visitors today (twice the number that planners anticipated when the park opened in 2008), Discovery Green draws people from across Houston. The park’s success is due largely to compelling public programs that offer intergenerational cultural opportunities. In contrast, Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, which was billed as a trailblazer for twenty-first-century open space, has been deemed an urban design disaster. This failure stems from the fact that the Greenway offers lots to look at, but little to do. A park that was planned to be a dynamic public gathering center now sits underutilized much of the time, and Boston is currently exploring how public programming might reinvigorate the park and make it a welcoming space for communities to gather and play. We will apply these lessons learned to our own public art and community engagement project and in our collaborations with many of the nonprofits and public agencies that are leading river revitalization efforts.
Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.
Since 2012, Project 51 has been laying the foundation for Play the LA River through extensive scouting of sites along the river and by building a vibrant network of partners and initial funders. We have already done the collaborating, writing, designing, and planning for our 56-site playable guide to the river; and we have launched an interim website and social media presence. In addition, we have crafted a detailed project timeline (below). Finally, we have formed a dynamic and cross-cutting team to lead the Play the LA River charge and have core partners in place to help produce public programs during the project year (Sept. 2014-Sept. 2015).
SUMMER/FALL 2014 -Complete Play the LA River card deck guide and do first printing -Finalize project launch -Finalize roadmap for programming of events with partners and collaborators -Finalize roadmap for outreach to foster self-organized programs and card-deck distribution -Develop and distribute toolkit for self-organized programs -Develop and launch Play the LA River interactive website with social media integration -Populate fall and winter events calendar -Launch project at Frogtown Artwalk (September 13) -Hold artworx exhibition of student projects; Clockshop screenings and campout
WINTER 2015 -Continue programming and community outreach -Populate spring events calendar -Identify play events/projects for website’s online exhibits section; solicit proposals for online exhibits from Play the LA River partners and community network -Plan “mobile play” series that LA River Corp will spearhead -Hold artworx exhibition of student projects; Clockshop’s 7 nights of campfires and stories about rivers -Complete second printing and distribution of card decks
SPRING 2015 -Continue programming and community outreach -Populate summer events calendar -Release first series of online exhibits -Plan summer kayak race with LA River Expeditions -Plan summer youth series with MRCA’s junior ranger and Compton Junior Posse programs -Hold LA River Corp’s series “Admiral Uncle Tio Rio & His Playmeister Parade,” offering four unique mobile play interventions -Hold artworx exhibition of student projects; Clockshop campout
SUMMER 2015 -Commission participants and finalize schedule for closing festival -Release second series of online exhibits -Hold summer kayak race and summer youth series -Complete third printing and distribution of card decks -Hold Play the LA River closing festival (September)
Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?
The two major challenges we face are time and money. As for the first of these, our proposed LA 2050 budget indicates our outstanding funding needs, which include a staff person to coordinate community outreach and to support logistics and communication with key partners on the part of both Project 51 and LA River Corp. This staff person would shepherd Play the LA River interns and volunteers and would provide critical support given the time-based challenges of the project’s founding leadership group and programming team. Second, Play the LA River plans to make the card deck and all Project 51-led events free to the public and hence to communities across LA. Funding from LA 2050 will enable us to continue this public service by printing additional runs of cards beyond our already funded initial print run and by affording us the opportunity to contribute to the budgets of core partners and to a wider network of community groups who organize Play the LA River and related events.
What resources does your project need?
- Money (financial capital)
- Volunteers/staff (human capital)
- Publicity/awareness (social capital)
- Community outreach