When I first started exploring Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, meaning, really started looking at the city beyond the beaches, people were surprised when I mentioned its river. “It has a river?” Not anymore. In Places Journal, professors Vittoria Di Palma and Alexander Robinson show how increasing numbers of Angelinos have not only discovered their river but are working to rehabilitate it, creating parks with places to bike, jog, and watch wildlife.

The Los Angeles River has come a long way since the days when characters in Repo Man burned trash in barrels in its dystopian cement riverbed. Di Palma and Robinson examine the river’s historical narrative through the lens of Thomas Cole’s 19th century five-part painting series, The Course of Empire. First claimed by colonizers from indigenous people, the river has been tamed and spoiled by Western industrial civilization — and now, hopefully, modernity can return…

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