Otis White on Houston's image problemContinuing the theme of "Houston's image problem" from the last post is this recent blog post from Otis White's Urban Notebook on, well, Houston's image problem. I can't really tell if we're truly getting ganged up on, or just being overly sensitive to lame rankings the rest of the nation is pretty much ignoring (probably more towards the latter). Somehow these types of rankings seem to get more publicity and media attention than stuff like lowest major metro cost of living (esp. housing), best restaurant scene (eat out the most often per week on average, and at the lowest cost), top 5 fastest growing metros (attracting absolute numbers of newcomers), and one of the best urban school districts in the nation (do I sound bitter?).
Watch Where You Step!
Lost in a Fat, Hot, Polluted City
Poor Houston. In recent years, various publications, candidates and organizations have called it the fattest, hottest and most polluted big city in America. And now this: MapQuest, the online mapping company, says it’s the easiest place in America to get lost in.
At first, Houstonians were defensive about the criticism, but now they seem to have an offbeat pride in the low opinion of outsiders. In publishing the MapQuest story, the Houston Chronicle used this headline, “It’s Easy to Get Lost in Our Big, Fat, Hot, Polluted City.” A local ad agency has offered up a tongue-in-cheek slogan for the city: “Houston. It’s Worth It.” And one of the partners at the agency had a nice retort to the MapQuest finding. “Our first question in the office was, did that mean difficult to navigate with or without MapQuest?” he told the Chronicle.
Probably both. MapQuest commissioned a survey of residents in the 20 largest cities, asking how often they got lost in their own hometowns. Houston came out on top, with 54 percent saying they sometimes or often lost their way. (Other places where residents often wander aimlessly, in order: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston and Dallas.)
Actually, there’s something to this hard-to-navigate criticism, the Chronicle said. Houston is a new city with no coherent street grid. Rather, it features hundreds of recent subdivisions built along winding roads because developers thought the twisting and turning gave them character. And where there is a grid, it’s confusing, the Chronicle agreed. In one part of town, it noted, “streets are numbered but without reason turn to letters. In downtown, street names change without clear definition. Gray and Alabama turn into West Gray and West Alabama. East Gray is nowhere to be found.”Footnote: So why the piling-on of Houston? Hard to say. The city’s image took a nosedive in the 2000 presidential election when Al Gore used it to lambaste George W. Bush’s environmental record as governor. Gore took to calling it “America’s dirtiest city.” Then a magazine called Men’s Fitness declared Houston the fattest city around, and it’s been downhill ever since. How far down? Just recently, a survey found that Houston residents are the least likely to clean up after their dogs. The tidiest pet owners, the survey added, are in San Francisco.