Dawson Neighborhood Association Records
An Inventory to the Collection
The immediate catalyst for the formation of the Dawson Neighborhood Association (DNA) in South Austin, Texas was the environmental battle with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) over the East Bouldin Creek Watershed, specifically the drainage tunnel at the intersection of this creek with the newly constructed US 290 freeway at Ben White. Galvanized into action by their opposition to the drainage tunnel and their fears of its impact upon East Bouldin Creek and its surrounding environs, the Dawson neighborhood residents organized and adopted bylaws with the help of the established and successful Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association in 1994.
The DNA encompassed the geographical area that was defined by Oltorf to the north, Ben White/US 290 to the south, South First Street to the east, and South Congress Avenue to the west. The only qualifications for membership in the all volunteer organization were residing within the DNA boundaries, being at least 18 years old, and participating in and voting at regular monthly meetings. The DNA disseminated information pertaining to the organization and the Dawson neighborhood to both its members and other neighborhood residents through their newsletter, DNA News. Later, via a Web site (http://www.dawsonneighborhood.com, no longer active) was created to facilitate the ease of communication among all members of this community.
During the first three years of its existence (1994-1996) DNA presidents Cynthia Medlin (1995-96, 1997-98) and Donald Dodson (1996-97) focused DNA activities on matters pertaining to the East Bouldin Creek Watershed including the drainage tunnel that would carry highway run-off from the intersecting portions of the I-35 and US 290 freeways into the creek, the associated construction of the flood control pond for the creek on Alpine Street, and beautification projects along the banks of the creek. The DNA was also very focused on and actively concerned with the construction of a second drainage tunnel at the same freeway intersection location to carry highway run-off that would be diverted into the Williamson Creek Watershed.
Primary focus of the DNA began to shift in 1997 when the City of Austin Planning Commission invited proposals for a pilot project in which neighborhoods would work with the city in setting the standards for current improvements and future development within their borders. The Dawson neighborhood proposal was developed under the auspices of the DNA and it had the distinction of being one of the three neighborhood plans chosen by the city for this pilot project. The primary leadership role and work on the developing the formal plan was accomplished by Cynthia Medlin as DNA Neighborhood Plan Coordinator and the chair of the Leadership Committee. The Leadership Committee was composed of interested DNA members as well as representatives from other neighborhood businesses and organizations. This long, intensive, and involved development plan process naturally involved a close alliance with City of Austin officials, particularly Sue Karczewski and Robert Heil at the Planning, Environmental, and Conservation Services Department.
In order to effectively develop an inclusive plan for the neighborhood the DNA and the Leadership Committee conducted two surveys, one asking residents to identify what issues were important to them and the second detailing neighborhood areas in need of improvements. Examples of the issues that neighborhood respondents identified as worthy of consideration and inclusion in the development plan were the need to preserve and enhance the natural beauty and character of their neighborhood, creation of more parkland and greenway area, concerns about traffic volume and speed, propositions for change and improvement along the South Congress corridor, and public safety issues such as crime and prostitution.
On August 28, 1998 the DNA had the distinction of being the first neighborhood whose completed development plan was adopted by the Austin City Council as a formal amendment to the comprehensive city plan. The plan noted 85 specific action items that were designed to preserve or improve the neighborhood and responsibility for their implementation was shared by the DNA, the city, and other organizations.
After the adoption of the Dawson Neighborhood Plan the DNA, under the leadership of President Jerome Garvey (1998-99), became involved with requests by the City of Austin Zoning Board concerning proposed changes to property within the Dawson neighborhood in regards to guidelines outlined in the newly implemented plan. In 1999, again under the guidance of Neighborhood Plan Coordinator Cynthia Medlin, a committee, called the Dawson Neighborhood Plan (or, occasionally, "Planning") Team, was organized to implement revisions to the original Dawson Neighborhood Plan. Official neighborhood design guidelines based on the experiences of the DNA in creating their neighborhood plan were also created and established. Status reports on the implementation and completion of the initial 85 specific action items were also prepared in 1999 and 2000. Throughout the 2000s, the Dawson Neighborhood Plan Team submitted opinions to the Austin City Council regarding proposed amendments to the Dawson Neighborhood Plan, as well as regarding issues that interacted with the Plan, such as a 2001 bond election and a 2007 city council vote to create a vertical mixed-use overlay district in the area. In 2008, The Dawson Neighborhood Plan Team changed its official name to "Dawson Neighborhood Plan Contact Team" in response to updated City of Austin terminology regarding neighborhood plan committees. However, the original name continued to appear on some internal and public documents.
While deeply involved with the development and implementation of the neighborhood plan, the DNA was also actively concerned with other issues and projects of that had the potential to affect quality of life in the Dawson neighborhood and its residents. Examples of the wide range of issues and projects include the building of the Twin Oaks Branch Library, crime and prostitution on South Congress, securing funding for a proposed hike and bike trail to be known as the East Bouldin Creek Greenway, the Homeless Campus issue, the South Congress Improvement Project (SCIP), and the contentious opposition surrounding the movement of a methadone clinic into the confines of their neighborhood that was lead by DNA member Kelly Smoot.
The DNA also developed alliances, working relationships, and memberships with such groups the Austin Police Department, Austin Fire Department, Austin Neighborhood Council, South Congress Coalition, and South Central Coalition on a wide-range of issues and projects important to its mission. In addition to the core of neighborhood residents who first formed the association, membership in the DNA expanded to include business owners, their employees, and Dawson area property owners who did not live within the neighborhood boundaries.
From 2000 to 2009, the DNA submitted opinions in area rezoning and zoning variance hearings, focusing especially on development that might increase traffic, noise and environmental hazards in the Dawson neighborhood. The DNA also lobbied for improvements to area parks, such as Gillis Park. Other key areas of action included fighting prostitution and drug dealing in the area, code enforcement, and neighborhood beautification and safety enhancements.
Principal figures in the Dawson Neighborhood Association Collection include past presidents Cynthia Medlin, Jerome Garvey, and Donald Dodson.
Newsletters, agendas, reports, clipping and correspondence document the bulk of the activities and interests of the Dawson Neighborhood Association. Arranged in five series representing the administrative documents of the Dawson Neighborhood Association, issues and projects in which the Dawson Neighborhood Association was involved , collected materials from both the city of Austin and other organizations, and administrative documents of the Dawson Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, these records reflect the undertakings of the association and the breadth of their interests.
Administrative records contain the least material (.6 linear feet). However, this series, which contains agendas, notes and sign in sheets from monthly meetings, newsletters, organizational charts and early founding documents of the organization, provides a wealth of information relevant to the structure, practices, and daily affairs of the DNA.
The second series, Issues and Projects (3 linear feet), includes records created by the DNA as well as collected material. This mirrors the original order of the collection, which was organized by subject, where most relevant information relating to a project or issue of interest to the DNA were filed together. A major project addressed in this section is the Williamson Creek drainage tunnel, which is the issue that triggered the initial formation of the Dawson Neighborhood Association and the Dawson Neighborhood Plan. Part of the Dawson Neighborhood Plan included a binder of materials, collected by past president Cynthia Medlin. For preservation purposes, materials have been removed from the binder and rehoused in folders. They can be found in box 2, folders 11-13 and box 3, folders 1 and 2. Additional Neighborhood Plan Contact Team materials were accrued at a later date and may be found in box 9, folders 4-8.
The third series is titled City of Austin (.25 linear feet), and includes records collected by the DNA. These documents are produced by the city and do not directly relate to an issue or project the DNA addressed.
The fourth series, Associated Organizations (.25 linear feet), like that of series three, encompass collected materials of other organizations. The documents do not directly relate to an issue or project the DNA addressed.
The fifth series, Dawson Neighborhood Planning Team (DNPT) Administration, includes records of the DNPT, which was comprised largely of members of the Dawson Neighborhood Association (although an officially separate entity, according to City of Austin documents explicating its role), and existed to provide recommendations to city officials on any proposed amendments to the Dawson Neighborhood Plan. Included in these records are by-laws, meeting sign-in sheets, minutes, agenda and collected materials. Additional information about the DNPT is available on the organization's Yahoo! group page (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DNPT/).
Major figures documented in this collection are past presidents of the DNA Cynthia Medlin, Donald Dodson, and Jerome Garvey. Their works are scattered throughout the collection.
Materials of the Dawson Neighborhood Association Collection were deposited in the Austin History Center Archives by Cynthia Medlin, Jerome Garvey, and Donald Dodson, three past presidents of the association, on November 14, 2000. Accruals to the collection are made on an irregular basis.
Dawson Neighborhood Association Collection (AR.2000.014). Austin History Center, Public Library. Austin, Texas.
Donor #: DO/2000/122
Donation Date: November 14, 2000
Initial inventory and preliminary processing by Todd Gilliam and Ruth Baker, August 23, 2001.
Final processing and finding aid by Angela Palmer and Lisa Richter, December 2, 2003.
Finding aid encoded in EAD by Molly Hults and Ashley Adair, August 2010.
Subsequent finding aid revisions made by Ashley Adair, September 2010.
Detailed Description of the Collection