Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chronicle kudos and a Chinatown change

I'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.

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).
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."

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.


At 9:44 AM, June 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon me for being severely unimpressed with a group that cannot even research weather statistics. It has never, EVER been 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Admittedly, it gets hot and humid here. But, as the temperature rises, the humidity drops. To state an urban myth as fact shows this group formed its conclusions first, then sought to justify them with unresearched opinions.

In years past, I would have defensively responded to these "studies". Now, I chuckle at their ignorance.

At 12:32 PM, June 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So many of these studies used flawed data, like in the fattest city survey. Houston ranks as one of the fattest because one of the reasons is the number of restaurants. I agree that many people in Houston are overweight but to assume that eating out means fat, seems flawed.

And go tell the hundreds of people jogging at Memorial Park at anytime during the day, that no one runs in the summer.

At 4:11 PM, June 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew says,
And I don't see that changing since our crime is on the rise and our per capita income has dropped while New Orleans has actually gone up!!

give it five-ten years. of course when all the poorer section of a city that traps its citizens with the twin policies of welfare and corruption get washed out, the neighboring city will lose some income per head. Soon we will see it come back. I predict many of these people will rise up the social ladder now that they will be given the oppurtunity.

At 8:28 AM, June 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reference to the comment "(well excuse us for supporting much poorer non-local farmers in the developing world)," the greater likelihood is that we are supporting large industrial farms in developing countries that have displaced the smaller family farms. These displaced farmers and their families have thus been forced into the cities, where they live in the slums. The farmers were by no means wealthy as farmers, but they were able to provide for themselves and their families. However, once forced off their land and into the cities, they are less able to provide for themselves, and thus live in greater poverty. In the case of Latin America, many of these folks eventually try to cross our border and look for work in the US.

At 9:04 AM, June 13, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That's extremely unfortunate, but it's still better for our wealth to help provide jobs and economic development for the poorer abroad than hoarding it ourselves.

At 12:50 AM, June 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, to comment on both of the above posts -- with Federal farm subsidies where they're currently at, we're probably supporting ConAgra, Cargill and other industrial farm operations in the US, not abroad.

The renaming of "Chinatown" is sort of interesting, Tory, but it opens up a bag of flies. Traditionally, the moniker of "Chinatown" has referred to the Chinese enclaves that developed as a result of anti-Chinese sentiment in the 19th century. The name itself is a sort of history, something to remember the rich and vibrant communities that arose in the face of virulant racism. It takes away from the history of the name to say that it can be used for tourism purposes (as a sort of decorative applique, as if it can be applied to wherever Asian people decide to move).

Also, a "New Chinatown" seems a bit anachronistic. Bellaire Blvd. is home to a lot more than just Chinese immigrants nowadays -- hell, Hong Kong City Mall is owned by Vietnamese Americans. It seems like a slight to other Asian communities in the Bellaire area to call it "New Chinatown." Maybe "Asiatown" might work, but that just sounds absolutely silly.

(Also, New Yorkers don't call Flushing "New Chinatown," just like how Angelenos don't call Arcadia / Monterey Park / San Gabriel "New Chinatown.")

That having been said, I think a number of Asian American business owners in Bellaire have already embraced "Chinatown" as a marketing tool. (See Ah, postmodernism.

At 4:30 PM, November 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kind of late... but Hong Kong City Mall is owned by ethic Chinese people born in Vietnam; so actually they're Cantonese-Chinese.


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