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Feature Article: Austin Neighborhoods

Most of us have borrowed from neighbors occasionally. A weed whacker, flour, a fertilizer spreader, ski pants. But building something with a neighbor—say, a fence—could have one of two outcomes. It could result in future avoidance rituals (including toting your garbage to the curb at zero-dark-thirty), or a friendship that’s firmly cemented.

Joe and Britanney Kerby and their three young kids, Noah, Cruz and Stella, moved into a home on a sunny corner lot in Central Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood three years ago. Over time, they got to know their neighbors, Cyrus and Margo Cousins, through conversations over a shared fence. “We both had dogs and were thinking about building a fence to replace the cyclone,” Joe explained. “We said, ‘How about doing it together?’”

Cyrus took them to a see a fence at a house in East Austin for inspiration; it was no generic, throw-it-up, six-foot wooden privacy fence. It had well-hewn wooden posts interspersed with galvanized steel wire mesh, filled with slabs of beautiful flagstone rock.

Working together most Fridays and Saturdays, the fence took nearly a year to complete. There were some ground rules: Jerry Garcia and burger runs would play a big part. Joe’s cue to wander over was when Cyrus hit play on a Grateful Dead live show, wafting with attitude across their property lines—that became the fence building theme music. “There was one time when the Grateful Dead track hit a space where the band played some weird, instrumental, trippy music,” Cyrus recalled. “This was during a time when we were trying to level, pour concrete and do a lot of fence math. The rain was coming and we were pressed for time. The track probably messed with quantum physics…I’m pretty sure everything we built during that track had to be rebuilt.”

Austin Neighborhoods

In between sawing and hammering, they’d try different burger places in town. Top picks? Your Mom’s on Airport (now closed) and Billy’s on Burnet.

Good machetes can also fell good fences. One night as the family was eating dinner during the fence construction phase, the Kerby’s son Cruz spied a five-foot snake in a backyard tree. Brittaney ran next door to borrow Cyrus’s machete, but he wasn’t home yet. When she came back she found Joe “subduing” the snake with a shovel. Within minutes, Cyrus came crashing through a newly-erected fence section, machete and pitchfork in hand, ready to go to battle.

Brittaney describes Rosedale as classic Austin with a modern, eclectic twist. “It’s a walking neighborhood,” she noted, “So it’s amazing to see and connect with people you live less than 50 feet from on a regular basis. Everyone has huge hearts and open doors.” The quirky factor? “There’s a pig that is walked with a dog. And lots of free-roaming chickens.” Their neighbors also have a much-loved annual Halloween barbecue tradition, where a front yard grilled feast is served, followed by trick or treating around Rosedale together as a group.

“It feels like the way neighborhoods used to be…but it’s real,” Joe shared. “I’ve always wanted a neighborhood like this. It’s a place where if you say, ‘Hey, I need help,’ people will drop what they are doing and bring the tools.”

The neighbor who lives on the other side of the Cousins saw the fence that Joe and Cyrus built. He wanted to replicate it on their shared property line. “So Joe came to help build that fence, too,” Cyrus said. “He had no gain in that project besides listening to the Grateful Dead and going for burgers.” Apparently, it’s that kind of neighborhood.

Read more from the Neighborhoods Issue | June 2016