Organizational Spotlight: Amigos De Los Rios, Claire Robinson

amigos de los rios logo

Tell us a little about Amigos De Los Rios and the work you do there. 

Amigos De Los Rios – ‘The Emerald Necklace Group’ is a mission-driven 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 2003. Los Angeles as a mega region that has great weather, incredible biodiversity and a wonderfully diverse cosmopolitan population.  Yet our metropolitan area is very challenged in terms of environmental health, public health outcomes for residents and lacks the vibrant civic culture most world class cities support. We are working to create a robust network of natural infrastructure parks and trails to connect the Mountains of the Upper Watershed to the Sea:  a convergent grey and green infrastructure network which reflects the diverse cultural heritage of LA – A network that supports protection of biodiversity, ensures a sustainable water resources future, celebrates all the various world views we represent to each other and complements Public Transit infrastructure.

What inspired you on your career path?

My Mother inspired me on this career path as a “Parkitect” (word my daughter invented) and Sustainable City Planner.  Women comprise less than 14% of the architecture profession -I have lots of #METOO examples – it has been hard to protect my feminist point of view in urban planning and design.  Mom was a single mother, Physical Therapist and champion of her three daughters. She had us volunteer in her PT department to help people with broken fingers, significant burns, broken legs, arms necks, and various other challenges. She was tireless until she was diagnosed with and died of cancer at age 44 nine short months’ later –leaving three young girls on our own.  Right before she passed she said she was so proud of me for studying architecture -she know I would try to do for cities what she did for people helping them reconnect disconnected natural functions and restore their health.

What role does Amigos De Los Rios play in the Nature For All coalition?

The role we play is we play in Nature For All is we have the hard-won knowledge needed to implement complex nature-based parks and trails within the most disadvantaged communities. We challenge Agencies to be more progressive – to be more efficient – often at our peril as a tiny organization. We believe people need to see change viscerally by walking into a beautiful complex space where collective spirit and nature thrive: nature-based public spaces that support children, families – residents of all ages in very practical and tangible ways. We embrace all the material challenges of bringing our vision of a regional Emerald Necklace Greenway network into the real world – a messy, process that takes total focus concentration and tenacity beyond words. Not a political process but a combination of thought and hard work – stewarding the material alchemical collaborative processes that result in living park.

What is Amigos De Los Rios currently working on related to the San Gabriel Mountains?

The San Gabriel Mountains are the source of inspiration for our Urban Emerald Necklace Collaborative Vision and process – based on a collective impact ethos. Currently we are participating in the Community Collaborative to plan the National Monument in alignment with our Emerald Necklace Expanded vision reflective of cultural and biodiversity. We are working with Forest Service on multi-cultural kiosk in Copper Canyon.  And we are bring the vegetation, biodiversity and cultural history of the natural areas into the urban core in our projects. My personal goal as a mentor has been to create an inspiring and safe studio space for next generation designers (protecting women and other minorities as they enter the field) to plan and build healthy cities and implement nature parks that dazzle, protect, inspire us and make us all smile.

What is your ideal way to spend a day in the San Gabriel Mountains?

We live and work in Altadena at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains — our family life unfolds with the mountain as backdrop, we enjoy the changing weather conditions and light reflected by San Gabriel Mountains every day. Our Emerald Necklace Watershed Stewardship Volunteer events take place every Saturday -so ironically I have very little leisure time to actually spend in the mountains. But my husband, who is an avid hiker, has taken me on a few gorgeous walks to streams within the forest that are as beautiful as any Renaissance painting. One afternoon near a mountain stream can serve to inspire my urban bioswales and nature park design and advocacy work for months.  I love grabbing a handful of forest soil and enjoying the tiny components of the duff.

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