RETHINKING THE RIVER


The Los Angeles Omar Brownson grew up in was defined by two moments: the Summer Olympics in 1984 and the civil unrest of the LA Riots in 1992. He compares it to A Tale of Two Cities, the best of times and the worst of times. One made LA shine on the global stage for the right reasons, and one for the wrong reasons due, in part, to the fact that we were ignoring some fundamental issues.

A product of LA, Omar loves this city. He defines LA not as a destination, but as a Launchpad. What we do here can be transformative and precedent setting for the world.

Omar spent most of his career in real estate finance and development. Real estate can be about building the world you want to see. Omar points out, “it’s easy to be a critic and point out what’s wrong with the world. It’s much harder to be an artist and actually contribute to it.”

When he was asked 5 years ago to become the first executive director of the LA River Corp, he asked, “what river?” For anyone familiar with the state of the LA River, it’s a legitimate question. Having seen better days, the river is often forgotten or ignored – in stretches the waterway resembles more of an eyesore than a natural landmark.

But, Omar must have recognized something special when he took a tour of the river. One week later, he quit his job and assumed the monumental task of transforming this essential part of our city. He asked himself, how many times in life will you get asked to change the face of an urban landscape like LA? To change the lives of 10 million people in a fundamental way.

The LA River Corp’s “2020 Campaign” aims to connect the 51 miles of the LA River with bike trails by the year 2020. The reason for bike trails is paramount: so people can experience the entire waterway. The LA River Corp is doing more than creating one park or one “moment” on the river. They are looking at the river in its entirety… as a system.

Omar references a quote by Yvon Choinard (co-founder of Patagonia): “People only invest in what they love, and they only love what they know.” Until people can move along the entire river, they’re not going to know it.

The single most important thing we can do to show our support for the river is to go there. That’s it. Just go there. Run on a trail. Find a spot next to the river and read a book. Take a walk. There are so many ways to engage with the river. Our presence is what validates the River Corp’s assertions that Angelenos want the river. That it’s important to us. Believe it or not, visiting the river is noticed and (sometimes) documented. If we ignore the river, public officials will ignore the river.

Think of visiting the river as casting a vote. We want this to be better. We believe it can be better. We’re here.

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