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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Day that People Filled the Freeway: Re-Envisioning the Arroyo Seco Parkway, and the Urban Environment in Los Angeles


Los Angeles is a city shaped by its freeway system. Superimposed on the physical and social landscape of the city, the freeways have tended to split and destroy the fine grain of residential neighborhoods. The design and implementation of the freeway system exemplifies the dictum of top-down planning, envisioned by transportation engineers and city fathers with little or no input from the affected communities. Emblematic of this treatment of the urban landscape is the “first freeway of the west,” the historic Arroyo Seco Parkway in Los Angeles. Located within the Arroyo Corridor, the freeway includes in addition to the transportation artery, a sub-watershed of the Los Angeles River, which has also been channelized and built upon. The article discusses recent grassroots efforts that offer a ‘counter-strategy’ to the narrative of hegemonic, top-down planning, by allowing participation, input and action from the neighboring communities. The goal is nothing less but to make the freeway a connector rather than a separator of the diverse neighborhoods along its banks and to craft a core strategy for urban environmental renewal in a region long characterized as hostile to environmental goals.

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