Following a lengthy search, the California city of Riverside and its Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department have selected Studio-MLA as the lead designer of the River-Side Gateway Project Suite, a string of nine sites along a seven-mile stretch of the Santa Ana River. Funded by the California Coastal Conservancy, the search committee sought a design team that could best revitalize the open spaces and trails along the northern edge of Riverside, the largest city in the Inland Empire region of California with a population of over 300,000.
The Los Angeles and San Francisco-based studio has designed several large-scale projects that integrate landscape architecture, urban design, and planning to reintroduce green space and biodiversity into densely urbanized areas, including the Upper Los Angeles Rivers & Tributaries Revitalization Plan, Silver Lake Reservoir Path and Meadow, and proposals for the Taylor Yard portion of the Los Angeles River. Just as each of those projects exemplified Studio-MLA’s model of ‘advocacy by design’ (“a powerful tool to catalyze ecological and social change with inclusivity and authenticity,” according to the studio), so too will the River-Side Gateway master plan be informed by studying the unique biodiversity and community needs of the region through collaborative grassroots engagement with the residents of Riverside. “Studio-MLA believes in the transformative power of riverfront revitalizations to improve quality of life and bring new opportunities for people and nature,” says Mia Lehrer, the president of the studio, in a press statement. “To maximize the benefits, we’re thinking holistically across disciplines, working in concert with the community and with the river’s ecology, and planning for real equity with a very long-term view.”
As Southern California experiences rising temperatures and other environmental hazards due to climate change, the studio will develop its master plan as an opportunity to “create access to water and recreation for citizens while also designing solutions for stormwater mitigation, threatened habitat, and air quality impacts,” according to Matt Romero, a landscape designer for Studio-MLA and a former co-chair of a national network focused on environmental justice for the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). In line with this goal, all nine sites of the River-Side Gateway will provide habitats for the region’s wildlife through floodwater conveyance and wetland restorative practices while improving the river’s existing walking trails and bike infrastructure.
The project is expected to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and will be an exemplary component of the Envision Riverside 2025 strategic plan, an initiative spearheaded by several members of the Riverside City Council to dramatically improve the economy, environment, and community spaces of Riverside by 2025. As one of the Studio-MLA’s largest projects to date, River-Side Gateway will be developed through a partnership with several local businesses, including community outreach experts Alta Planning & Design, ecological restoration specialists ICF, civil infrastructure firm RICK Engineering Co., and geotechnical engineers Leighton Group.