The influential Upper Los Angeles River and Tributaries Revitalization Plan (ULART) has earned the prestigious global 2021 AZ Award from Azure Magazine for its plan to “recalibrate natural urban waterways by deploying nature-based solutions to create new community space and help rectify decades of neglect.”

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In an international competition commissioned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), the ULART plan by Studio-MLA stood out for its comprehensive vision for 300-plus project site opportunities for the Upper Los Angeles River and its tributaries, taking the win in the Urban Design Visions category of the competition. The competition received over 1,200 project entries from 57 countries in the 10 designated categories.

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rendering of trees surrounding Los Angeles River

The design addresses the needs of underprivileged populations up and down the L.A. waterways and aims to reverse trends of paving natural spaces, instead planning for green beltways. “This integrated response to climate change via new green infrastructure, as well as the social infrastructure for renewed equity in cities, is urgently needed,” said AZ Award juror Marc Ryan of Toronto-based design firm Public Work.

The ULART Plan is led by Los Angeles Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, Sarah Rascon of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority on behalf of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and Mía Lehrer from landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA. This combination of interests and skills culminated into a plan that supports local communities and the environment.

aerial rendering of greenery around a river in Los Angeles

“It was a privilege to lead this effort that begins to address environmental justice issues in communities that have historically suffered from underinvestment. The plan identifies over 300 opportunity sites for open-space amenities accessible to over 625,000 residents who live within a half mile of the river tributaries,” said Councilmember Rodriguez, the ULART Chair. 

Rascon, environmental equity officer for MRCA, said the team relied on input from a variety of local representatives of municipalities, community leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and elected officials from throughout the Upper Los Angeles River watershed area. Delegates represented six cities throughout Los Angeles County, as well as dozens of Los Angeles city neighborhoods in the Upper Los Angeles River watershed.

diagram of phases for a river revitalization masterplan in Los Angeles

In addition to the contributions for human recreation, the plan works in conjunction with natural systems to address the historic droughts in the area. It includes the potential capture of 8,695 acre-feet of stormwater per year.

Jan Dyer, principal and director of the Infrastructure Division at Studio-MLA said, “The ULART plan also provides over 1,000 miles of shaded green streets and trails, while preserving and enhancing over 6,000 acres of urban wildlife ecology.”

+ Studio-MLA

Images by Studio-MLA and MRCA via v2com