Chronicle kudos and a Chinatown changeI'd like to kick off the week with high praise for the Chronicle's editorial board for their op-ed on Saturday about yet another annoying and arbitrary bad ranking for Houston. They were not only thoughtfully critical (rather than passively resigned), but threw in a feisty zinger or two to boot.
HOUSTONIANS are used to surveys criticizing their weight or climate. Thanks to a thriving economy and welcoming culture, a lot of people consider living in Houston worth it. One doesn't have to be anti-Houston, however, to take seriously a new, mostly critical survey about Houston's environment.Now on to the second part of today's post, with credit to John Tolle for the insight. Near the GRB convention center, there are some signs that direct visitors to Chinatown. Unfortunately, our old Chinatown east of downtown has dwindled to a wisp as the real action has moved out Bellaire near Beltway 8. But the average visitor has no way of knowing that, and they end up with a very warped view of Houston. They leave their convention, follow the signs, and, frankly, end up thinking "Houston has the lamest Chinatown on the planet. So much for Houston's vibrant diversity claim."
Released this month by a nonprofit group called Sustainlane, the study ranks Houston 39th out of the 50 largest U.S. cities in "sustainability." That term, the group says, combines "environmental, economic and social issues."
Essentially, the study measures quality of life by assessing a city's environment. Houston's ranking reflected, among other things, poor air quality, poor water quality, lack of access to locally grown foods and residential sprawl.
(well excuse us for supporting much poorer non-local farmers in the developing world)
The researchers also indulge in a sneering, unscientific tone. In the category called "Healthy Living, " they sniff, "Who feels like going for a run when it's 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity?" Throughout the survey, they tend to dismiss cities unwise enough to lack mountains or ocean breezes. (zing!)
More seriously, they undervalued Houston's affordable housing relative to other cities', ethnic tolerance, abundant jobs — and even warmth (a plus in the eyes of many of Houston's South Asian, African and Latino entrepreneurs).
The solution - and my request - is simple: change the signs from "Chinatown" to "Old Chinatown". By the simple act of adding "Old" to the sign, most people will understand that there must be a "new" one somewhere else. Maybe they'll cut us some slack and give us the benefit of the doubt - or, even better, they'll ask how to get to the "New Chinatown" and be duly impressed when they get out there. It's a small change that could make a big difference in visitors' impression of our city.
So, if you know anybody at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, or anybody else with the power to change those signs, please pass this post along. Thanks.