A CNA Perspective

By Jim Walker
Originally published in the November 2018 issue of The Flea

In the early 1980s, the area we know as Cherrywood had no neighborhood association, but a handful of champions who dealt with issues. Sparked by an initiative to expand Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (established in 1930), the Citizens for Airport Relocation formed in 1982 (another story for another time). Such a large political effort led to the invigoration of neighborhood associations all around Mueller, including what we now call Cherrywood. Several initiatives were launched during this time, including a long range visioning effort by Mike Damal, into what we now know as the Land Use Transportation (LUT) Committee. The effort to relocate, rather than expand, the airport lasted until 1993, when Bergstrom Air Force Base was decommissioned and became the ideal site for a new larger Austin airport.

By the mid-1990s, the planning for redevelopment of Mueller was well underway, while the pressures in Cherrywood were more conventional. Houses, some of historic character, were being bought, slightly renovated and flipped or rented out to mounting dissent. Traffic speeding through the neighborhood was getting dangerous. TxDoT was pushing an expansion of the interstate. At the city level, frustration with growth pressure in the urban core led the creation of the Neighborhood Planning Department. Environmentally sensitive land conservation and environmental justice issues were at a peak. A handful of small music festivals were gaining traction and there were rumors of a rail election.

Residents were getting uneasy with all the change. The Cherrywood association that had formed in support of airport relocation had become dependent again on a handful of champions. Then meetings started up at the Discovery Incubator, which had replaced a small grocery, in what is now Hoover’s Restaurant. After a vote of residents, the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association (CNA) was “reactivated” (check out the Flea archives!). As a grad student who’d just discovered the neighborhood, I volunteered as secretary. I felt lucky to be in the middle of all these big and small neighborhood issues, as well as the efforts to just bring people together. Looking back, I think we dealt with issues pretty well.

The CNA governance structure evolved a bit through the late 1990s and early 2000s. I was honored to do a couple turns on the steering committee. There seemed a never ending parade of city issues manifesting as neighborhood debates—zoning change requests, threats, opportunities, watch-dogging a Mueller Redevelopment Master Plan for what we all hoped would be a place that complemented Cherrywood (and vice versa).

At the same time, there evolved several community traditions. These didn’t really come about because we had a neighborhood association, they were each the passion projects of individuals who wanted to celebrate our little corner of the world with their friends and neighbors. Where these events are the lifeblood of any neighborhood, the association is the muscle, and while both are vital, the muscle doesn’t exist without the blood.

Fast forward to today. I remarried in 2015 and moved from Breeze Terrace after 22 years to the north end of Cherrywood on E. 40th St. – a huge change in some respects, a slight shift of perspective (and short cuts from the frontage road and Airport) in many other respects. My son is halfway through high school and his flight into his own adventure is on the horizon. Up and down the street and throughout the Schieffer-Willowbrook area of Cherrywood are the same diversity of people and culture and opinion as I recall being so grateful for two decades ago.

When the opportunity emerged to run again to serve on the CNA steering committee, it felt like an invitation to a reunion. The pressing necessity and questions of CodeNEXT, speeding traffic, parking pressures, interstate expansion, the will o’ wisp of rail, infill development, the big and small parks and green spaces, affordability, and on and on. We’ll continue to talk a lot about these issues, have more meetings than anyone would guess, and still disagree. And that’s ok and as it should be. That’s what neighborhood associations do.

We’ll still wave to each other in the morning.

Jim Walker is the Director of Sustainability at UT Austin. Photo courtesy of LinkedIn.

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