Arroyo’s first exposure to the 51-mile, concrete-walled Los Angeles River came in riding mass transit downtown from his East Los Angeles home, past a riverside cityscape of industrial structures, graffiti, and piles of debris.
Yet despite the river’s hard-knock appearance, it has been a center of creative expression for artists. When Arroyo left Los Angeles in 2008 to pursue a master’s in city planning at MIT, he continued looking critically at the river as a new paradigm of urban planning.
“Although my community saw relatively little promise in the river’s ecological future, they saw great potential in its ability to elicit cultural engagement,” Arroyo wrote in the preface to his 2010 thesis, “Culture in Concrete: Art and the Re-imagination of the Los Angeles River as Civic Space.”
Today Arroyo is a doctoral student and Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). A self-described “nontraditional” urban planner, his work before grad school as a journalist and as a longtime arts advocate has encouraged him to incorporate methods from ethnography, sociology, and critical cartography into his research.