Dove Springs in southeast Austin is a working-class Hispanic neighborhood of single-family homes. A regular destination for Central American immigrants, it is one of the poorest areas of the city — a food desert with an obesity problem. It is car-centric, poorly serviced by public transit, and many of its residents are without automobiles. In 2013 and 2015, flooding in Onion and Williamson creeks inundated more than a thousand homes, leading the city to buy back nearly 600 houses located in the flood plain. An entire neighborhood was razed and turned into a public park.
Dove Springs’ recreation center is a lumpy, ’90s shed structure with a green metal roof, banded brick walls, and few windows. It played an essential role in sheltering displaced residents in the aftermath of the floods and, on a daily basis, provides meals for the needy, of whom there are many. As a result, the city tagged the center for improvement and hired local architecture firm Limbacher & Godfrey to do the job.
Through a community engagement process, the architects understood that their intervention should create a more welcoming environment for visitors, whether they come for nutrition or exercise. The existing building got a makeover: The TV room was turned into a learning center, the kitchen upgraded to professional standards, new windows were strategically incorporated. They also added a dance studio/multipurpose space — complete with a sprung floor, mirrored wall, and barre — in a new building that contrasts with the existing: instead of a shed roof, an inverted pitch; instead of dull brick walls, glazed tile. The newcomer, which does not touch its elder, also forms a shaded breezeway between arrival and the park — a pleasant place to pause and take in the green expanse descending to the creek bottom. Dove Springs has a long way to go before becoming an equitable place to live, but this project is a step in that direction.