The street is the property of the Texas Department of Transportation, which has an agreement with the City of Houston to maintain its sidewalks and right of ways. The railroad that crosses over North Shepherd Drive, between 34th and 38th streets, belongs to BNSF Railway Company.
Who took responsibility to make the corridor cleaner, safer for pedestrians and more aesthetically pleasing? A group a business owners and residents who take pride in their community and wanted to improve it.
About 25 volunteers gathered last Saturday morning to pick up trash, sweep the sidewalks, trim the grass and remove weeds on both sides of Shepherd between 34th and 38th. Two truckloads of debris were hauled off.
“Nobody’s maintaining it,” said Houston mayoral candidate Bill King, who participated in the cleanup. “So these good people all came out this morning to do it.”
The effort was a collaboration between King’s campaign, the Garden Oaks Civic Club and the North Shepherd Community Alliance (NSCA), a networking group of businesses along the thoroughfare. Wendell Champion, who plans to challenge longtime U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in Texas’ 18th Congressional District in the 2020 election, also was on hand to help.
NSCA founder Kathryn van der Pol, the co-owner of Liberty Hoepfl Garage at 4610 N. Shepherd Dr., said the cleanup event was the first step in what she hopes will be a transformation of the street. She enlisted a professional landscape designer to sketch renderings of what the area could look like – with murals painted on the railroad bridge as well as the walls of the underpass, grassy areas on the median and near the sidewalks, and street lights so the area isn’t as dark at night.
Van der Pol said she plans to present her vision to the Houston City Council to seek financial support. Even after last Saturday’s cleanup, van der Pol said the street “needs a massive amount of work.”
“Our idea is we would like to make this area right here a gateway to the North Shepherd corridor,” said Betty Heacker, owner of Wabash Feed & Garden Store at 4537 N. Shepherd Dr. “You have to start by cleaning it up.”
Heacker speaks from experience. She said she helped revitalize Washington Avenue when her business was located there in the 1990s and early 2000s, and that transformation started with a similar community cleanup event.
King said he hopes the latest effort by the NSCA will inspire other communities around Houston to hold their own beautification events. Along those lines, he said he wants to help organize cleanup projects in other parts of town every Saturday.
Champion also drew inspiration from the Shepherd cleanup, saying it’s an example that can be followed all over the United States.
“The beautiful thing is you see people from all different neighbors,” he said. “That’s America, working together to make it better.”
A woman who drove by rolled down her window and thanked the cleanup crew. Van der Pol said a curious resident of the apartment complex on the west side of Shepherd also expressed gratitude.
It was just one group of people pitching in on one morning, but the effort could lead to more. Garden Oaks resident Tom Cronin said more is needed, too, because he discovered layers of trash while working on the grass and dirt on the side of the street.
“I know it’s got a long ways to go,” van der Pol said. “But we’ve come a long ways, too.”