Building the Foundations
As Director and Founder of The River Project, and the former Executive Director of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), Melanie Winter is no stranger to the many opinions people hold regarding the future of the LA River and its surrounding communities.
Over the years, the development of high-rise luxury apartments, large commercial retail spaces, a sports stadium, and even a freeway have all been proposed for the last remaining open spaces along the river’s banks. And nowhere have such proposals been more hotly contested than at Taylor Yard, a former feed mill turned railyard turned future site of a 100-acre river park.
Original plans for Taylor Yard did not include this park, 18 acres of which is now known as The Bowtie and is part of the greater Rio de Los Angeles State Park. Like other parcels with a history of industrial use, Taylor Yard seemed destined to become another lot of warehouses — until community members from neighboring Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Elysian Valley protested in the late 90s.
“People had been very clear that they wanted Taylor Yard to provide additional open space because the community absolutely desperately [needed] it,” Melanie remembers.
In those years, imagining a future where the LA River was more than just a flood control channel was tough. For many, including some municipal leaders, it seemed like little more than an austere concrete channel. Melanie recalls some people even being surprised to learn that a river was in fact flowing through Los Angeles!
In order to adjust the public’s perception of the river, Melanie knew she’d have to organize. In 1998, alongside FoLAR and a host of other neighborhood coalitions, she assembled the first ever “River Through Downtown” conference. In gathering elected officials, community leaders, and representatives from local organizations, the conference made space for participants to consider the river’s significance across many aspects of civic life in LA.
The first of many community listening sessions on the matter, this initial gathering helped cement Melanie’s commitment to a process of revitalization that is as holistic as it is responsive to the community’s needs. For Melanie, framing is key.
“You can’t address any problems on the river or transform the river if you’re only looking at the river. The river is the result of the entire watershed. That’s what creates it.”
Melanie Winter is the founder and director of The River Project, a non-profit organization that encourages responsible management of watershed lands and the revitalization of rivers. Her goal is to provide communities with the tools they need to reclaim their riverfront lands and restore our local water supplies. Winter organized a coalition of local groups that secured the land and $45 million in state funds to build the LA River’s largest park: Rio de Los Angeles State Park.
A Glassell Park Story
A more than twenty-year resident of Glassell Park, Helene Schpak understands that civic engagement is an essential part of healthy community living. “It’s giving back. It’s being part of a society, part of a community. If you care, sitting back isn’t going to accomplish anything. Pace yourself and volunteer, put in some effort, and sometimes…
“We were Catholics. We were going to church, whether you liked it or not,” David De La Torre reflects on his childhood. But, over the years, his engagement with his home parish — St. Ann’s Catholic Church — transformed from a feeling of obligation to a desire to develop his faith. He attributes this change…
The Story Behind the “Orange Bridge” Pt. 2
The Taylor Yard Bikeway and Pedestrian Bridge, better known as the “Orange Bridge,” is not easy to miss, but many overlook the history behind it. Although it was just completed in 2022, the story behind this bridge goes further back. Part 1 of this tale recounts shady practices by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority…
In 2000, California residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act, known as Proposition 12, which allocated $2.1 billion to California State Parks to address hundreds of critical State Park System needs across California, particularly for high-density, park-poor areas. As the former Los Angeles…