Exposure to nature improves social cohesion, enhances mental wellness, and improves physical health. By leveraging existing amenities and community-driven design, Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, Megan O’Connell, and Jade Florence, PhD will create an ecologically-sound neighborhood park that fosters well-being and belonging.


Pillow Elementary School, located in north Austin, opened in 1969 and was named for Dorinda Josephine Pillow, who taught in Austin for 47 years. The school’s surrounding 9-acre campus, Pillow School Park, operates under a joint-use agreement between the Austin Independent School District and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department. Due to its accessibility to community members outside of school hours and its location in the center of the 220-acre North Shoal Creek neighborhood, it represents a prime location for building a community hub. 

Project Description

This project began as a collaboration between three Austinites: Trevor Hance, Executive Director of Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center; Jade Florence, PhD, local ecologist and sustainable landscape designer; and Megan O’Connell, PhD ecological researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. The goal of this project is to engage the community surrounding Pillow School Park to create an ecologically-sound neighborhood park that is inviting to both neighbors and urban wildlife. 

Pillow School Park was selected for this work based on its availability of pedestrian and bicycle access, position in the center of a community that lacks access to other nature spaces, existing infrastructure such as shade structures and playscapes, and strong support from campus teachers and administration. 

Our major objectives for the Pillow Park project include:

  • Modify an easily-accessible open space to create a natural oasis for community members to enjoy and recreate in
  • Incorporate native landscaping features to provide habitat for urban wildlife
  • Increase time spent outdoors by neighbors, faculty, and students

Community Engagement

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has adopted a virtual community engagement campaign to gather community feedback. During this community-led design process, weekly videos will be shared via the Pillow School Park website and other social media platforms. These videos will indicate opportunities for engagement along the way, while walking community members through outdoor-based lessons to learn more about their natural environment. This engagement will culminate in a call for feedback relating to park design elements, where they should be located, and voting on the final park design, which will be based on compiled community feedback. This campaign began in April 2020 and design is expected for completion during Summer 2020. Final plantings are expected to be completed in Fall 2020. 

An online survey can be accessed here.

The Pillow Park Project updates feedback channels:

Anticipated Schedule

  • April – August 2020: Conduct community engagement and park design feedback/finalization 
  • March 2021: Hardscaping (trails, outdoor seating) and initial planting installed
  • Fall 2021: Secondary planting installed

Funding & Resources 

This project is funded by the Parks with Purpose grant from the St. David’s Foundation with support from TreeFolks.


For more information or if you have questions, email Melody Alcazar.