River LA joins High Line-founded network focused on creating equitable public spaces

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River LA, the organization that hired Frank Gehry in relative secrecy to retool a master plan for the Los Angeles River, has joined a new network of 19 groups across the U.S. and Canada all working on projects to create new public spaces through adaptive reuse.

Co.Design reports that the network was started in part to share the High Line team’s information and experience with teams working on similar projects, so missteps of the incredibly popular park—and of other similar projects—can be avoided.

The High Line, once an abandoned elevated train track, became a popular destination in New York and rapidly drew high-end investments to the Chelsea area. But many lower-income residents weren’t using the park, because, “They felt it wasn’t built for them, they didn’t see people like them there, and they didn’t like the programming,” the network’s executive director Robert Hammond tells Co.Design. That’s not exactly what High Line team had in mind.

“The most critical point in these projects is social equity around their neighborhoods,” Hammond says, and that means making sure people feel comfortable using their local parks but also that the communities that house parks get to benefit from them economically, too.

Many communities are skeptical of new projects like this, because they often drive up rents and spur businesses that cater to wealthier people. This is a frequently expressed concern in many communities along the LA River’s 51 miles.

The High Line Network is in the process of “developing a framework to help planners measure the social impact of projects,” and that framework is being shaped using information from all projects in the network.

“Public open space is not going to solve income inequality, displacement, and environmental problems,” Hammond tells Co.Design, but “as we think about these projects we have to be thinking about each one of these pieces.”

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