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American Society of Landscape Architects


August 2007 Issue

In Pasadena, landscape architects are working to show that even in Southern California, a river can run through a city.

By Linda McIntyre

Changing the Channel Lynne Dwyer, ASLA

In the Los Angeles area, the term “river,” more often than not, refers to a concrete-lined channel that sits dry much of the year and, during the rainy season, sends stormwater rushing out to the Pacific. But in and around Pasadena, a project to restore the historic Arroyo Seco (“dry stream” in Spanish) has brought riparian habitat to the close-in suburbs. This project shows, on a small scale, how landscape architects working with nonprofit groups and municipal governments can combine and leverage their knowledge and experience to get results, even if they are starting with a river that doesn’t always fit the traditional description.

When Landscape Architecture visited the Central Arroyo Seco, a component of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco master plan, with project manager Lynne Dwyer, ASLA, we saw a lot of native plants thriving and a few persistent exotics. Birds fluttered, chirped, and splashed in the arroyo—a trickle of a stream during this relatively dry period, but nevertheless, clearly a stream, running under a couple of freeway overpasses.

Also, on this beautiful Saturday afternoon, a lot of people were enjoying the space. The response from the community has been enthusiastic. “We’ve had incredibly positive feedback,” says landscape architect Rosa Laveaga, the Arroyo Seco project supervisor for the City of Pasadena. The local chapter of the Sierra Club has started a weekly hiking tour of the restoration. Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit group dedicated to restoring and protecting the Arroyo Seco watershed, says parts of the Arroyo Seco, especially along the lower leg, are so popular that the number of visitors verges on becoming a problem itself.

So how did Dwyer, Laveaga, Brick, and others make this happen?

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