Placemaking at River LA

What It Is and Why We Do It

At River LA, our mission is to integrate design and infrastructure to bring people, water, and nature together along all 51-miles of the Los Angeles River. Over our last six years, this has meant different things and it continues to evolve today. We think that’s the exciting part, but we realize it can leave the community with some questions about our work and why we do it.

Today, we’re going to explore an essential part of our work: Placemaking. This on-the-rise buzzword has been a focus of River LA over the years and is at the heart of a number of events we’ve hosted recently. These gatherings, which you can find more of on our events page, have brought together all sorts of folks across Los Angeles. It’s an important part of our work and we’re excited to share it with you.

What is placemaking?

Placemaking is designed with community-based participation as its core purpose. Defined by the Project for Public Spaces, the ‘Placemaking process capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, and it results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people's health, happiness, and well being.’ It empowers communities to re-imagine their space for potential opportunities to improve lives through intentional development.

This can mean a number of things. In some instances, Placemaking is physically developing an area, like transforming empty buildings into open creative spaces. Other forms of Placemaking include temporary art installations or even pop up events. Regardless of the medium, all Placemaking is intended to engage communities to celebrate and consider their spaces.

How we’ve done it

Our Placemaking work began in earnest in 2016, when we decided to take a page out of the Goldrisch Foundation’s LA 2050 “micro grant” making program and develop a micro grant program of our own for Rio Vistas. We started with this project because it was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate and practice the principles of Placemaking.

What’s made our Placemaking work so powerful is what we haven’t done. Instead of managing each event, we have fostered the ideas and plans for individuals and community members to lead themselves. Most recently, we began our Rio Vistas Micro Grant program. The Rio Vistas program consisted of $1,000 micro-grants we awarded to individuals and groups that wanted to celebrate people and space along the LA River. This has led to remarkable events that represent the needs and communities they serve.

Debbie’s Inheritance
This Rio Vistas activation was designed to celebrate the memory of loved ones past. The installation by artist Rosalie Lopez used living houseplants and repurposed objects to create an inviting space called Debbie’s Inheritance. In exchange for a take-home rooting plant, voice recorded or written memories were collected and shared in a digital memory archive.

I think Debbie’s Inheritance was about creating and engaging environment and making an archive of stories from a specific region in Los Angeles. The LA River connected with the installation through the need for creating green spaces and connection to water. -Rosalie Lopez

Broccoli City’s Hashtag Lunchbag Event (pictured below)
Broccoli City’s Rio Vistas satellite event emphasized bringing diversity to give back to the community along the river. Broccoli City partnered with Hashtag Lunchbag to host an afternoon of dancing, courtesy of DJ Printz, sandwich making, and celebrating our great river.


LA Walks
La Walks is hosting a Rio Vistas “Walk ‘n’ Roll” to walk the LA River to advocate for safe, accessible, fun and equitable walking. This Placemaking event will highlight areas of the river in need of repairs, while bringing together walkers of all ages!

Why it’s part of our work?

As River LA continues to explore the opportunities presented by the LA river and the public space of the channel, we find it essential to help lift the voices and the communities that call this river home. Placemaking is at the core of this work, as it’s designed to empower the neighborhoods to reclaim and guide the future of the space.

Want to get involved?

We have several opportunities to join us at one of these Placemaking events this summer. You can RSVP for one of these events here. Or, even better, get involved by signing up to volunteer with River LA.

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.