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From the Desk of the Co-Presidents – September 2014

A Meeting with the Mayor about Project Connect

One of the hot issues on this November’s ballot is Project Connect, Austin’s proposed first urban rail line. Mayor Leffingwell invited the officers of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association for a meeting devoted to that topic on August 7, one of a series of meetings he held with representatives of the neighborhoods most directly affected by the proposed rail line. Co-president Lorre Weidlich, co-vice presidents Kathy Lawrence and Mark Fishman, co-secretaries Artie Gold and Adrian Skinner, and Transportation chair Mike Pikulski attended.

It has been around 15 years since light rail was on the ballot in Austin. The current proposal has taken several years to develop; and if it is defeated, another 10 years are likely to pass before the issue reaches the ballot again. Many details of the current proposal are still undecided; they will not be addressed unless voters pass the proposal.

Mayor Leffingwell assured those of us in attendance that the proposed line was selected due to metrics. It is, in fact, the combination of two lines that were under consideration. He didn’t explain all of the metrics but did touch on the following items:

  • The proposed line accesses a 28-acre area ripe for development. Given Austin’s escalating population, that was a consideration.
  • There are no matching funds available for the Guadalupe-Lamar line, which made it a less appealing choice.

The Mayor and his staff were open to questions and received several. After around an hour, the meeting broke up. Responses to the meeting were mixed. For example, Adrian Skinner said, “While I appreciate the forum the mayor provided to pose questions, there appears to be little desire on the city’s side to address our concerns and no desire to alter the planned ballot measure.” There was no disagreement with the assessment that Austin’s congestion problem needs to be addressed, but there was serious concern over the selected route, because of its duplication of current rail routes between Hancock and Highland ACC and because of perceived preferential treatment toward the University of Texas.

The Ice Cream Social

Shipe Park proved to be a pleasant meeting place for this annual social, and we want to thank Kathy Lawrence and her team of volunteers for making it a success. Several City Council candidates showed up to join us, and we all enjoyed cones and bowls of cool, sweet, and fattening pleasure.


With the descent of fall, the temperature may drop but political activity in Austin is reaching a boiling point. Look to upcoming neighborhood association meetings for opportunities to meet candidates and hear issues discussed.

–Kevin Heyburn & Lorre Weidlich

HPNA Co-Presidents

Pecan Press – September 2014

Pecan Press September 2014

HPNA Meeting – September 2014

The September meeting for the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association will be held on Monday, September 8th at 7 pm at the Griffin School. This month we will hold a potluck dinner, so please bring a dish to share with neighbors. The Nomination Committee will introduce candidates for Steering Committee for the next term. The Contact Team will report about the most recent Contact Team meeting.

Hundreds Attend Shipe Pool Party

July 12th marked the 6th Annual Shipe Park Pool Party, hosted by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and sponsored by Grande Communications. Parents, children, and neighbors alike enjoyed food from Best Wurst and Café Hornitos, late-night swimming hours, and The Lego Movie.

Shipe Park Austin TX

Live music from Brazilian band Os Alquimistas also added to the lively soundscape of laughing children running on the green, watchful adults socializing, and of course, splashing. With hundreds in attendance, the night was a great testament to both community interest in Shipe Park and the bonds between our neighbors.

The impressive turnout came as no surprise to the party’s organizer and Shipe Park activist Adam Wilson, who experienced first-hand the community passion and interest that saw the Shipe Mosaic Mural to its completion last year. While the event was a well-seized opportunity to celebrate the privilege we share in having a beautiful community hub, it was also the time to raise awareness about the threat of losing it.

Shipe Pool Austin TX

Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) announced in 2011 that the 80-year-old pool had a mere five-year life expectancy. This summer, shell leakage and pump issues forced temporary closure; and although the immediate problems were addressed, restoring the pool will take more work. The fate of the pool may hinge on the upcoming 2014 PARD Aquatics Assessment report, which aims to determine if city funding would be better spent on smaller neighborhood pools or larger regional pools and splash pads.

Shipe Pool and Park Austin TX

District 9 city council candidates Erin McGann and Kathie Tovo were there to shed light on their campaign views, including the polarizing topic of funding for neighborhood pools. McGann spoke mainly of promoting local business and increasing infrastructure spending, yet expressed a desire to maintain public parks on a regular basis. Tovo declared her commitment to the neighborhood pool system, citing her belief that access to these smaller pools are crucial to sustaining the quality of life for families in the expanding city of Austin. She added that she and her daughters once relied on Shipe Pool while living in a nearby neighborhood, as many without a local pool do today. Ian Davis, who made a brief statement on behalf of candidate Chris Riley, acknowledged his own connection to Shipe Park as a former camp counselor and reflected Riley’s regard for community building.

Shipe Park Austin TX

If you agree that the Shipe Park facilities are an invaluable asset to the strength of our community, there are ways to become involved in advocacy efforts. Jill Nokes, a Hyde Park resident and founding member of Friends of Shipe Park, recommends the following ways to show support:

–Mary Lynam

Staff Writer Intern

Still Inching Forward?

In the February issue, my “Inching Forward” article was an update on the Upper Airport Boulevard Form-Based Code (FBC) Initiative. The title of this new update reflects the pace of developments over these last six months.

An Advisory Group to the initiative was established by City Council in 2010 to represent specific organizations (developers, large and small local businesses, and property owners) with an interest in the Airport Boulevard Corridor between Lamar and IH-35. The group was formed to assist in public outreach and to provide feedback for future development that would foster mixed-use, walkable, bicycle, and transit-oriented development. In December 2011, I was appointed the HPNA representative.

Advisory Group meetings, community open houses, and neighborhood association roundtables were held by the City of Austin Planning and Development Review Department (PDRD) though June 2012. Since that time, the Advisory Group has received periodic updates from Jorge Rousselin, the PDRD Development Services Process Coordinator, regarding the progress of the first draft of the FBC. This working draft was reviewed by city staff, revised with staff input, and then was to be integrated with CodeNEXT initiatives to revise the City Land Development Code (LDC). In an April 2014 email from Jorge Rousselin, the Advisory Group was informed that the CodeNEXT Consultant (Opticos Design) was being brought on board to assist in the completion of the Airport Boulevard FBC.

Opticos Design also recently completed a review and assessment of the city’s LDC. This lengthy Code Diagnosis document, released in May, can be found at 92-page document is worth scanning by anyone wishing to be informed about potential changes to the current code. The Upper Airport Boulevard FBC will eventually be integrated with a revised City of Austin LDC.

–Doris Coward

HPNA representative to Upper Airport Boulevard Advisory Group

HPNA Meeting Minutes – July 2014

HPNA Meeting Minutes: July 7, 2014

Lorre Weidlich, HPNA co-president, called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. First, an announcement by Adam Wilson about the upcoming Shipe Pool Party on July 12 (see the story on p. 1). Adam mentioned current maintenance issues of the pump and leak in addition to the fact that Shipe Pool is among the few pools in Austin of an age and condition considered to be near the end of life. A report next month from staff of Parks and Recreation will inform a long-term plan for city aquatics. The question is whether the city will choose to maintain smaller neighborhood pools or move to larger centralized pools. Adam stressed that Friends of Shipe Park are advocating for all neighborhood pools.

The main order of business was transportation, the first of two issues being the light rail proposal. Scott Gross, Austin’s Urban Rail Program Manager, presented information regarding the recommended alternative of rail from Highland to Riverside. This is envisioned as just the initial corridor of a system of light rail. Current plans call for 16 stations and four park and ride stations, with estimated ridership of 18,000 weekday riders, resulting in 10,000 cars off the road each day. Alignment would be primarily at grade, with dedicated right of way. $22.1 million is the estimate of yearly operation and maintenance expenses, which would begin in 2022. Fares would cover about 22% of these expenses, with other funding coming from a variety of sources such as sales tax, federal money, and savings from duplicative services. For example, bus routes 7, 10, and 20 would be reworked or reduced/eliminated.

The Central Corridor Advisory Group took action on this recommendation and CapMetro endorsed it, as did the Austin City Council. In August, City Council is expected to finalize the language for a bond proposal, which will also include funds for roadway projects. The bond election would be held this November. Should the bond be approved, this would trigger a few years of study and refinement of plans, including environmental impact statement and details of alignment, station locations, bridges, and tunnels. For more details, visit

Scott Morris, from OurRail Political Action Committee, also spoke in favor of light rail, noting reduction of carbon and operation and maintenance costs per passenger mile that are less for rail than buses. However, disputing some of the data used by Project Connect, his group opposes the proposed northern section of the route, favoring instead the currently more dense Guadalupe-Lamar corridor. He argued that the city needs to stop using transportation infrastructure to shape speculative future growth. In other words, its approach needs to change from planning for future growth to serving the existing population.  For more on this group’s perspectives, visit or

Mike Pikulski, HPNA transportation chair, concluded the transportation presentations with an update on Mobility35. The purpose of this program is to identify and implement short- or mid-term strategies to improve mobility and connectivity along the I-35 corridor from Georgetown to San Marcos. Significant changes are under consideration. One change being studied is the addition of one lane in each direction of I-35, which could be a general purpose, HOV, or toll lane. One proposal would close the ramps at 32nd and 38th. Of much importance to Central Austin are proposed major changes to the frontage road and the entrance/exit ramps at Airport Boulevard and 51st Street. Improving east – west connectivity is also a major focus of planning. Improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists are seen as key by the Department of Transportation. More information is available at

–Submitted by Artie Gold and Adrian Skinner

HPNA Co-Secretaries

Right Behind – Poem

I’ve been a lefty for two weeks, now,

What a difference two weeks can make,

I eat very slowly, now,

I feel like my 16-month old grandson,

He is learning to eat—he does not have 100% efficiency, yet

1st pass

He knows that “thing” carries oatmeal to his mouth

2nd pass

The food is on that thing

3rd pass

Got it! Whoops—didn’t make it to the mouth

4th pass

Thing is just thing with a fleck of oatmeal

5th pass

Screw it – I’ll just go direct (at which point, he sticks his face into the bowl)


To those of us, watching, me, this is hilarious,

Wait—not so hilarious as practical,

I eat with my left hand (can’t raise the right—surgery on the shoulder)

New understanding—I can identify with my grandbaby,


Another interesting bit…

I do the Sudoku and the Scrabblegram, in the newspaper,

Every morning, to kick start my brain,


I’m terrible at Sudoku, but, now

As a lefty, I am kickass


Must be the right brain opening up,

There are worse things than having to use the non-dominant arm,

I mean, what if I didn’t have one?




Taking Leave – Poem

Morning light—clear as

That light inside you somewhere—

A trading post in some small

Town in northern New Mexico—

I don’t remember the name—it

Doesn’t matter—wandering among

The gewgaws for tourists and

The necessities for natives,

Looking for something to take

Back with me, something to

Remind me of all this when I’m

Back home, feeling my chest

Tighten thinking of leaving

This state that has such

Enchantment (yes, enchantment)

For me, going back to work.

Longing. We’re talking about

Longing, longing for the

very space that surrounds you.

Something quixotic, something

Very sad here. This was one

Of my early trips. Later, I

Learned wisdom, learned to

Walk away from it, taking

Nothing with me. That’s the

Good way, that’s the clean way.


–Albert Huckstickler at Dolce Vita, June 6, 2000

Agent – Poem

I love to watch the morning come awake

(that’s iambus) sitting in front of the

coffee house on my bench happily observing

the bustle—now that I’m not part of it:

the women so fresh, the men so determined,

the sparrows who nest in the eaves so

pert and eager. I take it all in.

I am the timeless observer, sent here

to record and pass on the complexities

of this planet’s culture, charged not

to interfere. I sip my coffee, light

a cigarette, write it all down. I’m

not in a hurry but I’m aware of time. I

want the record complete when they beam up.


–Albert Huffstickler at Quack’s, June 8, 2000

From the Desk of the Co-Presidents – August 2014

This month, we are going to continue the process we began in last month’s letter: clarifying some of the terms that have been discussed—and often confused—during the recent discussions about accessory dwelling units. What is the difference between the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan and the two Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts (NCCDs) and what is the relationship between the two?

What is a Neighborhood Plan?

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan is just what its name implies: a plan. Imagine Austin is a plan for the entire city; it updates the original 20-year-old city plan. The neighborhood plans for the various geographical areas in Austin are additions to the city plan.  A neighborhood plan provides goals that the neighborhood wants to achieve and a vision of the way a specific neighborhood wants to develop over time.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan, which applies to all of the greater Hyde Park area, specifies the following goals:

  1. Preserve and enhance the unique historic and residential character of HP.
  2. Preserve and enhance the unique and historic streetscape patterns of HP.
  3. Promote a neighborhood-friendly system of transportation.
  4. Maintain and improve public infrastructure consistent with existing neighborhood patterns.
  5. Protect and enhance the Guadalupe corridor and other commercial areas.
  6. Foster a genuine community of neighbors of every age and background.
  7. Preserve and enhance the natural beauty, open spaces and watershed systems of the neighborhood.
  8. Promote safety and reduce crime.

Each of these goals has a list of objectives that make the goals more specific.

What is an NCCD?

An NCCD is very different. It is a city ordinance; specifically, it is a zoning overlay. It modifies the basic city land development code. It can make the stipulations in that code either stricter or looser, depending on the patterns prevalent in the neighborhood to which it applies. If an issue is not specified in an NCCD, basic city land development code applies. For example, the Hyde Park NCCD does not specify FAR (floor area ratio). Therefore, the FAR specified in Austin land development code (set by the ordinance known as the McMansion ordinance) applies in the parts of Hyde Park covered by the two Hyde Park NCCDs.

Those two NCCDs are the Hyde Park NCCD, which covers greater Hyde Park south of 45th Street (south to 38th Street, between Guadalupe and Duval), and the North Hyde Park NCCD, which covers the remainder of the greater Hyde Park area (north of 45th Street, between Guadalupe and Red River). Any zoning revision that intends to change the land development standards of greater Hyde Park needs to address and modify both of these NCCDs. The two NCCDs (like the LHD) are designed to implement the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan. That is why they are more precise and more recent than the Neighborhood Plan.

Follow Up to Last Month’s Letter: Advocacy

A further similarity between the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and the Contact Team is that both advocate for their stakeholders. The Contact Team bylaws state the following: “It is also the responsibility of the Hyde Park Contact Team to work on behalf of all stakeholders in the neighborhood planning area.” The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association does the same thing. HPNA bylaws state the following: “HPNA exists to foster a closer, more genuine community of neighbors and to preserve the historic and unique character, amenities, and ecology of the community of Hyde Park. This is accomplished by providing a forum through meetings of HPNA and its committees for pursuing a variety of goals beneficial to the community and by combining the efforts of the residents in effecting the improvement, restoration and preservation of the Hyde Park community.” HPNA advocacy activities range from adopting resolutions intended to promote the welfare of the neighborhood (for example, the occupancy limits resolution) to working toward legislation designed to protect the neighborhood (for example, the NCCDs and the LHD). The crucial difference between the Contact Team and the HPNA is the stakeholders in each group and the scope of each group’s mandate.

Thanks to the Friends of Shipe Park

Our appreciation goes to the Friends of Shipe Park for their organization of our sixth annual pool party. TheLego Movie and wonderful music added up to a great evening of entertainment. We look forward to another great Shipe Park event in August, when we gather there for our annual ice cream social.

–Kevin Heyburn and Lorre Weidlich

HPNA Co-Presidents

Around And About The Avenues – August 2014

A New Addition to the Pecan Press: Readers may have noticed on the masthead the inclusion of Mary Lynam as a staff writer intern. This is the first time this publication has had such a position. Mary recently moved to Hyde Park after she graduated from the University of Delaware, with a major in professional writing and a career goal of editing. Her initial article on the Shipe Pool Party appears in this issue. Please give Mary a warm Hyde Park welcome!

The editor would also like to take this opportunity to thank Bob Farr, who has been serving as the publication’s production manager for many years. His professionalism, reliability, and quick turnaround time on layouts are remarkable, making the editor’s life so much easier than it would otherwise be. Also to be thanked again are the many volunteers who are involved in ensuring that the Pecan Press finds its way to the doorsteps of residents on time, month after month.

Publicity for Two Hyde Parkers: In the July issue of Tribeza, Nancy Mims was one of three Austinites chosen for their skills in documenting what they cherish about their neighborhoods. For five years Nancy has documented with her smartphone camera the various unexpected gems she discovers on her “walking meditation” each morning in Hyde Park. Also in the July issue is a profile of Adam Wilson, focusing mostly on his involvement with the Friends of Shipe Park, the pool mural, and his founding of the Griffin School. Deaton Bednar, who played a role in Adam’s becoming active in the care of Shipe Park, is described as a “neighborhood community-building powerhouse.” The Pecan Press interviewed Adam in the September 2013 issue.

Save the Date: This year’s National Night Out is on Tuesday, October 7, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Neighborhoods must register by September 13.

Pecan Press – August 2014

PecanPress - August 2014

Hyde Park Contact Team ADU Survey

On behalf of the Hyde Park Contact Team ADU committee, and in preparation for the July Contact Team meeting, I’d like to share the results of the recent ADU survey with you.

The ADU Survey Results contains a summary of each question along with a breakdown of the number of responses received, percentages for each answer, and a chart to help visualize the results.

A total of 148 people participated in the survey and, generally, opinion was evenly split between support and opposition with roughly 20% of survey respondents undecided.

A few notes to be aware of as you review the survey results:

– GENERAL: Since responses to questions were not required, there is variation in the totals from question to question

– Q1: qualification to take the survey, answering “No” prevented participation. (Unfortunately, our survey layout permitted two participants who skipped this question to complete the rest of the survey.)

– Q3: only presented to survey respondents who answered “No, but I would like to build an Accessory Dwelling” to Q2

– Q5: contained a weighted scale for answers. Scale: Will Be Worse = -2, Might Be Worse = -1, No Change = 0, Might Be Better = +1, Will Be Better = +2

– Q7: address information is being withheld to protect participant privacy

Questions about the survey and general discussion about the results are welcome and discussion will also be included during the July Contact Team meeting.

Keep Shipe Pool Wet

The 6th Annual Shipe Pool Party is Saturday, July 12, 7-11 p.m.  Bring the family and friends out for tacos and snow cones, take a late evening dip in the pool, and settle in for The Lego Movie in the field after dark. The Shipe Pool Party is presented by Grande Communications and hosted by the HPNA.  This event is a wonderful gathering in our cherished public green space and always helps us to build a stronger sense of community.

Note: As this article goes to press, Shipe pool has just reopened after a period of closure due to pump and leak issues.  The leak has not been completely repaired, but apparently is in a manageable state.  It will be regularly monitored and could cause future closure.  In any case, the July 12 event will take place as scheduled; if the pool is closed, the pool party will be more of a pool rally.

This is a particularly important time to advocate for our beloved neighborhood park and pool given the challenges it is facing: in the first month of the pool season, Shipe pool was closed because of the breakdown of the chemical pump and a significant leak in the pool plumbing.  Other neighborhood pools across town are closed at press time because of a citywide shortage of lifeguards.  Maintenance issues have caused periodic closures of Shipe pool over the last few years.

In 2011, Shipe was tagged by PARD for permanent closure to meet the budget gap the city was expecting (fortunately that was averted and the pool remained funded and open during the summer season).  And this year, in the city’s aquatics assessment, Shipe pool was judged to have less than five years of life left given the age and condition of its infrastructure.  The city’s final assessment report is set to be released this summer, and it will be the basis for a long-term plan for city pools in Austin.

The key questions on the table are (1) As a community, do we want to make neighborhood pools like Shipe and others a priority or would we rather close them in favor of new, larger regional pools with more capacity and amenities? and (2) If we do want to sustain neighborhood pools, how do we increase funding to the Parks and Recreation Department to rebuild and maintain them?

For a number of reasons then, this summer is a critical time to advocate for our neighborhood park and pool—and all neighborhood parks and pools.  Among the best ways to get involved in this advocacy:


  • Come to the Shipe Pool Party on July 12—we will speak volumes with our numbers that day!




Thank you for being engaged and involved in the important advocacy needed at this time to keep the park and pools available for our community!

–Adam Wilson

Friends of Shipe Park

An Interview With Lee Walker

Lee Walker has lived in Hyde Park for the last 20 years, a place that resonates with the high value he puts on family, friends, and community.  His professional and public life is a fascinating, inspiring tale not just in the breadth of his endeavors but in the way he has created or seized the opportunities that have led to a host of accomplishments.  Among the awards and recognition he has earned are Austin Chamber of Commerce Austinite of the Year (1998), Texas Nature Conservancy Lifetime Achievement (2004), and with his wife Jennifer Vickers, Association of Fundraising Professionals Outstanding Philanthropists (2006).

ELW color casual headshot

Pecan Press (PP): You lived in quite a few places before you moved to Austin.  Where did you grow up?  

Lee Walker (LW): I was born in Kansas; my dad came from a line of independent farmers in Catholic enclaves with a strong sense of morality.  I came to Texas at age 10 when he started working in an oil refinery in Three Rivers.

I did experience Austin rather early on, though.  Like many other kids in Texas, I participated in academic and athletic competitions sponsored by the University Interscholastic League.  If you were good and won in your district, you got to go to the regionals, and if you won there, you came to Austin to compete in state finals.  I loved those trips.  Austin was quite different from my hot, dusty hometown, and represented to me the epicenter of achievement.  It made an imprint in my mind that it was a place I would come to live someday.

PP: You’ve been engaged in a wide range of professions requiring constant retooling and learning.  Did this love of learning start when you were young?

LW: Yes.  When I was 7, I discovered a set of the Encyclopedia Americana in my basement.  I was constantly hiding out there reading it.  As a result, I got to know a lot of stuff early, and that triggered interest in a lot of other things.

PP: Why did you choose Texas A&M for your undergraduate work?    

LW: With no money for college, I went right to work the summer after high school as a roustabout in the oil industry.  One morning while we were pulling a well, a car drives up with the Shelby Metcalf in it.  This legendary Texas basketball coach invites me to attend A&M on a full basketball scholarship.  I leapt at this opportunity, but was surprised because I wasn’t that great a player.  Although being 6’9”, I did have my height going for me.  For three years, I sat on the bench, pretty much a nobody.  But just as the season got underway in my senior year, I started to play really well and was named Honorable Mention All Southwest Conference Team as A&M won second place in the conference.

PP: You majored in physics and Russian.  Those are challenging subjects.  Tell us a bit about why you chose those majors and if they had an effect on your life.

LW: I chose physics because I thought it was the hardest course of study to take, and also the most fundamental thing you could study—it’s about how things work.  I selected Russian because I needed a scientific language to go along with physics.  Physics plus Russian plus my final success in basketball changed everything in my life and opened up the world to me.  I was awarded a NASA fellowship for being a top national physics student.  That three-year program was a fast track to a PhD in nuclear physics.  ​

PP: At some point you decided to get an MBA at Harvard?  Where did the interest in business come from?  

LW: I had zero interest in business, probably even a negative view of it.  On the other hand, physics wasn’t enough for me.  The nature of a physics career requires you to keep specializing—and that was not interesting to me.  I met someone who had just graduated from Harvard Business School and told me he was already running a business for DuPont.  That sounded like something worth trying.

PP: Your initial job after Harvard was at Union Carbide.  There’s quite a story about your time there, right?

LW: Yes.  I quit after one year out of a sense of moral outrage.  My boss took me out for a drink; he’s celebratory because he felt I was headed for the top.  Then he became sad, in tears because he wouldn’t be going there with me because he was Jewish.  No Jew could get to the top of Union Carbide at that time.  So I just quit, with no job in the offing.

PP: Wow, that was a courageous and daring thing to do.  What were the repercussions?  

LW: That move turned out to be crucial for my entrepreneurial career.  A few days later, the phone rings and it’s Union Carbide, with a job proposition for me that would not involve being part of their company.  It had a 20 – 30% investment in an oceanographic company that was failing and immediately needed a chief financial officer to save it.  They said the job could be mine despite my lack of experience.  I took the challenge.  It turned out it was not so difficult to turn the company around.  After 2 years there, I moved on to a series of other successful businesses ventures.

PP: What was so engaging to you about being an entrepreneur?

LW: Several things.  I loved the sense of not working for anyone else, being independent—probably something I valued from my family’s roots in a farming community.  Also I liked the fact that imagination is at the core of entrepreneurship.

PP: So at what point did you finally move to Austin?

LW: In 1978 I fulfilled my early dream of moving here.  At first it was a period of early semi-retirement.  However, by 1986, a friend of mine introduced me to Michael Dell, who as a young man had just started his PC business.  With Michael was the man who I thought was going to be the first president of his company, which was then called PCs Limited.  I’m not sure what happened but several days later Michael offered me that job.  At first I said no, but upon more reflection became worried that his company was going to fail.  So I changed my mind, becoming the first president of Dell Computer.  Over the next few years we were able to break out of the pack to create the beginnings of a huge company.  In less than 4 years though, I become very ill with meningitis and had to stop.

PP: That’s a serious illness.  Did that change things for you?

LW: Very much so.  Not only did it take substantial time to recover, it’s like my master switch was flipped.  Living in an expensive home and driving a fancy car had been important to me, but now I moved to a houseboat on Lake Travis and drove a pickup truck.  More important, I changed the setting of where I applied my values and skills, moving from running businesses to teaching university students.

PP: Was one of those changes moving to Hyde Park?  

LW: Yes, that was part of a flow of change.  Moving here was like coming home.  Like many who live here, when Jen, my wife, and I first drove through, there was an instant click, a sense of connection to others.  At bottom for me, the most important things are family and friends.  Hyde Park taps that universal desire for connection.

It turned out to be a fantastic place for us to raise our daughters Gabriella and Giulia.  It’s been idyllic having Lee Elementary close by as a neighborhood school and being able to walk to restaurants and coffee shops and bike from home down Avenue H to Tom Green to the classes I teach at UT.  And Austin has been a wonderful place as well for my two older daughters Amanda and Suzanna, and my grandchildren Sam and Jasmine.

PP: In the time since your illness you have striven to serve—students through teaching and citizens of Austin as chair of the board of Cap Metro.  Let’s start with the latter.  What prompted you to take that on?  

LW: In 1996, Laylan Copelin at the Statesman was writing about scandal after scandal at Cap Metro.  The Legislature ended up firing the entire board, creating a new one of five elected members and two citizens at large.  My thought was that if Austin was to be a great city, it had to have great transportation.  I was also thinking it would be misery to take this job on, and I hesitated to the very last minute to apply.  Shortly after doing so, though, I became chair of the board for 11 years up to 2008.

PP: After serving as the board chair, you submitted a resignation letter in which you wrote, “I see a growing understanding that transit is about land use and how we shape a different future from business as usual.”  Can you elaborate on that?

LW:  To me, we had to envision the future, do a virtual flyover over central Texas, 20 or 30 years hence.  It was not hard to imagine the growth.  You could see the choking traffic coming.  Having a university, capitol, and emerging downtown all in close proximity made Austin unique, and linking those up by rail to my mind would have helped bring badly needed transit to Austin.  In 2000, though, the light rail proposal failed to pass, losing by an average of just one vote per precinct.  To this day I still regret that I was not able to provide the level of leadership needed to accomplish passage.  Its passage would have had a dramatic impact on traffic and land use and would have contributed to Austin’s becoming a grown-up modern city.  We did however pass the commuter rail in 2004 by a substantial margin.

PP:  Without specific training and experience, how did the path to teaching open up for you.

LW: That’s another one of those stories.  When I recovered from meningitis, I was invited to substitute teach a summer class in the graduate business school at UT.  As it turned out, I was voted best teacher in the business school for that summer and was invited back, and the awards and teaching continued.  A few years later, I met Ronnie Earle, the longtime district attorney in Austin, who told me his dream was to teach a course on community in Plan II, the liberal arts honors program at UT.  I offered to help him with that, suggesting we approach UT to co-teach such a course.  And so it happened.  Eventually Ronnie had to bow out, and I remained and reshaped the course, which I’ve continue to teach to the present as a Senior Research Fellow.

PP: Can you tell us a bit about that course?

LW: It’s called Pathways to Civic Engagement, and it’s all about using the imagination to create solutions, opening up the lens through which we see possibilities for improving the civic community.  One of those lenses is entrepreneurship.  For example, civic engagement can happen when a group of people says it would like to have new urbanism up the street at the Triangle in lieu of a sea of asphalt and big box stores.  Or create unique partnerships to save Westcave Preserve where I chaired for over 30 years.  Or join with other neighbors to keep garbage pickup in our alleys so as to preserve our alleys.  Or create a political movement to Save Our Springs.  In my class, I can bring to bear all my experiences in helping my students explore solutions.  My focus is on issues like health care, education, and the way we design our places, anything that has social justice implications.

PP: You’re now 72 and given your impressive list of accomplishments, I can’t imagine you without goals for the future.

LW:  For the next 20 years plus I hope to continue to be biking along Avenue H and Tom Green, on my way to and from teaching my class at UT.

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