L.A. Designer: Mia Lehrer, Shaping The City Through Public Space

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The green fingerprints of landscape architect Mia Lehrer are over many notable public spaces in Los Angeles, including the Annenberg Beach House, Vista Hermosa Park, Dodger Stadium, the masterplanning of Hollywood Park and the LA River, which takes another step towards habitability with the opening of its summer rec season. Mia talks to DnA about shaping LA though landscape.

Mia Lehrer

This coming Memorial Day, a stretch of the LA River will open for summer fun. Managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the river from Fletcher Avenue/Rattlesnake Park to Confluence Park will be open for kayakers, bird watchers, anglers and hikers, and even swimmers, from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week.

This is the first year that such recreation has become a permanent seasonal fixture and it signifies just how much the river has evolved from a concrete flood channel that was off-limits to everyone, except fearless taggers, to an emerging public resource.

One of the many formidable individuals who has played a part in making the river habitable once more is Mia Lehrer, landscape architect and head of her own firm Mia Lehrer & Associates. She has spent 20 years supporting LA River efforts, from voluntary clean-ups to, currently, heading up the design of the LA River Master Plan.

She has also helmed many other projects in the Los Angeles area, including the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, Vista Hermosa Park, Dodger Stadium and the masterplanning of Hollywood Park, due to start construction soon.

DnA spoke to Mia about the LA River and learned about the complexity of public projects and why she enjoys being a “regional” landscape architect.

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View south of the LA River from Marsh Park in Frogtown (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

DnA: The L.A. River is a very ambitious project to reconnect people with the river. What’s your role in the effort?

Mia Lehrer: This has been an effort of many, many people who set this agenda forward, starting with a poet Lewis MacAdams, who 30 years ago had an idea that the river should be accessible. It took many decades for people to understand that it is a river and that as river, it can be accessible and that there are solutions to make it accessible. So as landscape architects/urban designers, this is our domain to understand infrastructure in the deepest sense and the layers of strategies that can be implemented to solve a problem.

If you want a single purpose piece of infrastructure to bring water from the city to the ocean, the channelization of the river did it. It was a marvel, but it also cut the city into many pieces. Many communities were severed.

I was initially involved with a team associated with the master plan to revitalize the river, to first and foremost manage water, and protect the citizens from flooding, but to also offer opportunities for recreation, and densification of the city. The idea was to have multi-benefit solutions; to take the river and turn it into an asset.