Local pride and Houston's identityHope you caught Lisa Falkenberg's column in the Chronicle today on GHCVB efforts to build local pride in our city, so, in turn, we'll promote it to others. I thought it made a lot of good points, especially coming from someone moving here from Austin.
..."Austin gets really small after a while. There's Prozac in the water, and people seem overly concerned with being weird. Houston, with all its imperfections, is real to me. I love this place."Hear, Hear! It's a big part of why I've made so many efforts on this blog to brand Houston - not just for outsiders, but to build our own pride in the city - to understand the essence of what makes us special and forge an identity around that. My current favorite is Mayor White's "Open City of Opportunity" summing up our friendliness, hospitality, entrepreneurial energy, minimal regulations (including no zoning), open-mindedness, diversity, affordability, social mobility, optimism, and charity (especially after Katrina) - although I think there are others that are complimentary and could be used in certain contexts:
But this is exactly the kind of anecdote that worries the folks at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
They're concerned that Houstonians lack pride in their sprawling urban metropolis, that they're so caught up in the hustle and flow of daily life we can't see all that America's fourth-largest city has to offer.
All this would seem fine and good, except that I'm not convinced Houstonians need a remedial course in civic pride. The same folks who ask me if I miss Austin will, in the same breath, spout off for a half-hour about Houston's best barbecue joints, the iFest and the Art Car Museum.
Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg is skeptical as well: "I don't know where they get this idea that Houstonians bad-mouth their city."
In fact, Klineberg says, given Houstonians' persistent concerns about traffic, crime and pollution, it's shocking how much they love the place. According to the most recent annual Houston Area Survey results, more than 80 percent think H-Town is better than other metropolitan areas. Less than 10 percent said it's worse.
For more scientific proof, look at the wildly successful "Houston. It's Worth it." campaign, still available on its Web site of the same name. A photo book is due out soon.
Once you get past the comedic references to flying cockroaches and the miraculous skin-preserving benefits of humidity, there are thousands of comments on the site that could have been written by the visitors bureau folks themselves.
Houstonians gush over the low cost of living, authentic local restaurants, diversity, world-class museums, endless opportunity and generosity of the people, as exhibited after Hurricane Katrina. ...
If there is a problem with Houstonians' perception of their city, it may be an inferiority complex inspired, as best I can tell, by the stereotypes of outsiders.
The quality of life surveys say Houston is fat, dirty and hard to navigate. They leave out the good stuff: Houston just completed a $4.5 billion downtown revitalization. It's planting a million trees and converting bayous from drainage ditches to parks. It's diversifying its economy from oil to every kind of tech: bio, nano, info, enviro.
"We're in the process of redefining this city," Klineberg says.
Meanwhile, there's one truth about this city I hope will never change: Houston is whatever you want it to be.
Celebrities have their opinions and I have mine. My Houston is a drive down Rice Boulevard's tunnel of oaks. It's banana pancakes at Buffalo Grill. It's Urban Cowboy flashbacks when I approach the skyline from I-45. It's the best classic country radio station this side of my iPod.
I'll do my part to spread the word.
- "Engineering City", or "Engineering World Headquarters", or "Engineering Hub/City/Capital of the Americas"
- "Tropical Texas"
- "Greenest City in the Southwest"
- "Houston: Galactic Hub, Global Village, American Dream, Texas Spirit"