This project grew from the initiative of three Austin residents, Blanca Ortíz, Elena Rodríguez, and Enedina Sánchez, to transform a section of the East Williamson Creek Greenbelt in the Dove Springs neighborhood into a safe and welcoming park. Over the years, the park trail has become overgrown and the riverbanks continue to erode. However, the space holds deep meaning for many residents as a site for solitude and exploration, and elders fondly recall a time when the park was actively maintained by the neighbors.
In spring 2020, Ortíz, Rodríguez, and Sánchez initiated a collaboration with community organizer Frances Acuña of Go! Austin/¡Vamos! Austin (GAVA) and a group of graduate students from the University of Texas at Austin led by Professor Bjørn Sletto. Via a Practicum course during the academic year 2020-21, Bjørn and his students worked with the Creek Adopters and GAVA to reimagine the park space. The primary goal was to document past and current uses of the park as well as residents’ perspectives and priorities for the future park space. Students conducted interviews, walks with residents, mental mapping and photovoice, and participatory design workshops.
As the project got underway, a number of organizations joined to provide technical and logistical assistance, including the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD), the Watershed Protection Department, and the Neighborhood Partnering Program (NPP) of the City of Austin Public Works Department (PWD). Youth interns from the PARD Park Ranger Cadet Program and Urban Roots helped shape initial designs for the park and the Community Art Advocates Monica Maldonado and Filiberto Medieta joined to collaborate on a mural design for the floodwall that borders the park.
By summer 2022, PARD had approved the project as a Community-Activated Parks Project; Ortíz, Rodríguez, and Sánchez had been invited to present the project to the PARD Board; and they were anticipating significant funding for the project from the NPP. The student work was made available to the public on a dedicated project website, including an extensive report, a StoryMap, a video, and conceptual designs. Bjørn will continue to work with GAVA and the Creek Adopters as the project moves forward and anticipates teaching more courses in collaboration with residents.
Faculty: bjørn sletto
ACADEMIC YEAR: 2020-2021