Los Angeles recently completed construction of a $2 million, half-mile-long greenway along the banks of the Los Angeles River, turning an eyesore into a pedestrian-friendly recreation area. The first segment of a seven-mile-long linear construction project, the Studio City Greenway includes paths, a small park and native landscaping.

In June 1996, Los Angeles adopted a 20-year revitalization plan for a long-ignored, 32-mile stretch of the L.A. River — a concrete stormwater retention channel — from Canoga Park through downtown. As an outgrowth of that plan, the city adopted a Los Angeles River Greenway Community Enhancement Plan in May 2001 that called for constructing a linear park along the riverbank. Studio City Greenway is located between Whitsett Avenue and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, along a highly visible portion of the river in a commercial corridor with river access.

To design and build the greenway, the city contracted with Costa Mesa, Calif.-based NUVIS Landscape Architecture and Planning; Santa Ana, Calif.-based Incledon Kirk Engineers; Costa Mesa, Calif.-based GLP Karjala electrical engineers; and Temecula, Calif.-based Sweeney & Associates, irrigation specialists. The city's Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, Department of Recreation and Parks, Department of Transportation, Department of Water and Power, Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles County Public Works, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board all were involved in planning the park.

The design team worked with a neighborhood oversight committee of five to 10 residents to collect ideas about the park design and recreation amenities. To help build support for the greenway, the team also invited residents and local officials on bus tours along the river to show them locations for proposed park amenities.

As the park was in the planning stages, the L.A. County Department of Public Works developed landscaping guidelines and plant palettes that specified which native trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials could be planted in the greenway. Each region along the revitalization zone had a special plant palette that reflected the history of the city and the surrounding area, and embraced the contiguous neighborhoods and business districts.

As the pilot segment for the project, the Studio City Greenway winds along both sides of the concrete river channel, featuring paved pedestrian pathways accented by stone walls, fences and native, drought-tolerant trees and shrubs, such as Coast Live Oaks, California Lilac and sagebrush, arranged specifically to mimic their natural groupings. The greenway also includes recreation trails and a pocket park at the corner of Valley Heart Drive and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The small park is less than 500 square feet and includes seats, lights and a landscaped area. Nearby, two community groups created a small park and amphitheatre along the river's south side.

The next phase of the greenway is designed to continue two-thirds of a mile east and west of the Studio City section. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year, and the entire greenway, which will include several more pocket parks, is scheduled for completion in 2012. The $10 million project is funded by Proposition K, a citywide assessment district that generates $25 million each year to acquire, improve, build and maintain parks and recreation facilities through an annual real property tax assessment on residents. In general, the greenway has been well received by residents, local businesses and river advocacy groups. Detractors have only expressed opposition to the asphalt pedestrian path, saying they would prefer decomposed granite or pervious concrete — a few alternative paving options the city is considering for future phases.