Smithsonian on HoustonSmithsonian Magazine had a recent essay on Houston from a local transplant creative writing professor who's lived here on and off for a decade. He has some really touching things to say about his adopted city, plus a few things I'm not as agreeable with.
I used to joke with my friends in the Northeast that every fall I descend into Texas like Persephone, only to return, come spring, into the light. But after a few years, my feelings about the place shifted. I can tell you everything that's wrong with it: no zoning, bad air quality, impossible climate. Tiny, malicious mosquitoes so tough and persistent you get bitten on Christmas Day. Poor drainage, so that the ubiquitous storms create floods of biblical proportion. It's harder to name just what it is about the place that's gotten under my skin, holds my attention here, makes me want to come back.My readers know my regular defense of our lack of zoning - and he himself later points out the vibrancy of our constant change and redevelopment. He's got a point on the air quality and the climate, although it's been noted by others that at least you don't have to shovel or scrape humidity off your car, sidewalk, driveway, or lawn. Drainage is getting better, and I personally have found the mosquitoes relatively mild the last few years (maybe I'm just lucky or in the right part of town?).
In spite of its international petroleum-based economy, its layered ribbons of freeways and corporate spires, Houston still feels Southern. Imagine a hybrid of New Orleans and Los Angeles, with a dash of Mexico City thrown in.
As far as the comparison to NOLA and LA, I see the similarities with our Southern culture and sprawl, but I'd also mention that NOLA is a city run by old families and LA has superficial culture that worships celebrity, beauty, and gossip - neither of which apply to Houston. We have a no-nonsense, get-it-done business culture with an openness to newcomers - coupled with a lack of polish that you would expect in a city of energy, health care, transportation, and NASA (none of which are image or marketing-driven industries). I like the what-you-see-is-what-you-get honesty from that lack of polish, but it also has a downside with our weak brand image as a city.
He continues on to our friendly Southern culture, then moves on to our future-orientation:
This particularly Southern social fabric, with its suggestion of a slower pace of life, no hurry in all the world, is eroding. That's not entirely a bad thing; in comes new energy, more urbane possibilities, new futures. Since Houston is about transformation, it seems by nature to be a city without much allegiance to history. If there were a motto on the town flag, I think it might read NO NOSTALGIA.Hear, hear. Read the whole thing. It'll renew your fondness for this town. Also scroll down for some great comments too from more fans of our fair city.
That's a characteristically Houstonian attitude: What's so hot about yesterday? Let's go forward, let's see who we can be now. A historical preservation organization has been raising concerns that a handsome Art Deco theater in the city's River Oaks neighborhood will be torn down to build a high-rise. But I've come to understand the principle at work, if not its application: Houston is about the new, about transformation and ambition, the making and remaking of the self and the environment. Of course we make mistakes, but in ten years they're gone, and there's space for the next set of possibilities.
Hat tip to HAIF.