A Tropical Texas image strategyBoth Neil Peirce in the Chronicle this morning and the NY Times (overview) are extolling the virtues of Chicago's "green" strategy for renewal.
During the last decade, the city's performance, measured in virtually every conventional category of civic well-being, has been off the charts, local boosters say. Chicago attracted more than 100,000 new residents, added tens of thousands of downtown jobs, prompted a high-rise housing boom, reduced poverty rates, built thousands of affordable homes, spurred a $9-billion-a-year visitor and convention industry, and transformed itself into one of the most beautiful cities in America.I know Mayor White has announced similar initiatives for Houston, both on the environmental side and a new downtown park very similar to Chicago's Millenium Park. I'm not saying we want to just do a "me too" strategy, but Chicago is similar to Houston in many ways, and so a program that substantially boosts their image is something we should look at. Never be too proud to adopt what works.
Our big advantage is that we don't freeze solid for several months every year, which can be kinda hard on plant life. We live in a lush environment where just about everything grows, and maybe we should play that up (with due credit to David Crossley's "Garden City" vision). The snappy phrase I've been turning over in my head is "Tropical Texas". Everybody loves the tropics. Visions of swaying palm trees on a white sand beach with clear blue water. It's a great brand upgrade from "hot, humid, sweaty, and mosquito-infested", similar to the impressive image boost swamps got when they became "wetlands" - they went from something you wanted to drain to something to preserve. I think we can similarly turn our weather liability into an asset.
The phrase could be an umbrella theme for projects ranging from the Buffalo Bayou Project to the Willow Waterhole to Trees for Houston to the Botanic Garden to the bayou linear parks plan to highway beautification to tourism. But the real payoff would be inspiring thousands of landowners around town - especially commercial ones on major thoroughfares - to install attractive tropical landscaping, which would go a long way towards alleviating Houston's "ugly" image. It's the kind of campaign where the mayor's bully pulpit could actually make a real difference.
To be clear, I don't see "Tropical Texas" as Houston's core identity, but a helpful adjunct to help people get beyond the usual negative stereotypes. I've talked about an identity/brand for Houston many times before on this blog (most links here), and I think it's a bigger concept than "Tropical Texas" - but it's still a good rallying theme that could target a specific flaw in our image: ugly concrete sprawl + oppressive heat and humidity. Certainly not the whole answer, but it could go a long way. How about it, Mr. Mayor?