Thursday, June 01, 2006

Otis White on Houston's image problem

Continuing 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.


At 9:29 PM, June 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can vouch for the dog crap. My Houston Heights neighbors apparently believe that since I own a dog, I must LOVE picking up THEIR dog's turds.

You hear that, Columbia Street dog walkers? You've contributed to Houston's bad image!

Not to mention my foul mood.

At 10:22 AM, June 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely that is related to city form. I pick up after my dog as a matter of courtesy, but most of my neighbors don't. And I don't really care, since a little poop on the grass is just fertilizer here. SF's dog-to-grass ratio must be orders of magnitude larger, thus the stronger social (and legal?) sanctions. Now, can you find stats on how likely someone is to actually step in dog (or other) crap broken down by urban area? That must be in the census long form somewhere...


At 2:00 PM, June 02, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I find Houston's loop-and-spoke freeway network extremely easy to navigate, inc. entrances/exits and feeders. Surface streets can be more problematic, esp. since many change names randomly. But I'll take it over the tangled mess in Boston or DC any day.

At 2:08 PM, June 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only time i have been lost in this city, I started at house of pies. Went down kirby to 59, up 59 to 45 allen parkway. Was looking for Alabama but missed my turn, and passed up House of Pies.

I grew up in the burbs and only knew how to get around by freeway. Are we the big city with the most suburbanites who have the reason and ability to go into the city alot, cause when you grow up a suburbanite it is pretty easy to get lost in the city.

I have also driven all over the country and through Canada. Ive been to Vegas, New York, chicago, Montreal, and Toronto. The only place I have been hopelessly lost was the time I was stupid enough to drive through New York city.

At 8:36 PM, January 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this city really is a shithole. even a free ride to Rice's MBA program can't keep me here. i'm moving away as soon as the semester is over, and you guys can keep your swampy-smelling, mosquito-infested, car-crazed hellhole of a town.

At 5:35 PM, January 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheers to that! I'm from New England and California. All I got to say is, "What an UGLY city!" For being a "new city", it sure doesn't look like one. The condition of the roads are just as bad, if not worse than Boston. In Boston it's due to the freeze and thaws. What's Houston's excuse? Flat out neglect?

Also, how about those ugly utility poles everywhere? They couldn't have put them underground? Or how about landscaping, or lack thereof? Even when they attempt to do landscaping, they do it half-assed. They just throw random trees together and expect it to look good. Often they don't cut the grass in some areas until it's so high that someone could get lost in it.

Zoning would do Houston good people! Don't place faith in businesses to make the city look good.

This place is not just hot, but swampy hot! If your have a hot muggy city, don't you think you should try to make it look somewhat appealing like a Florida city?

The bugs, OMG, the bugs! HUGE roaches! These things are disgusting creatures. And if they die somewhere in your home, they stink!

The police. Apparently here in Houston there are no jurisdiction limits. The Houston police are on the freeways, side streets, you name it. Add the state police, sheriffs dept, and university police (Actually pulled someone over on the FREEWAY to ticket them) in the mix. And you feel like the gestapo is everywhere! And they are aggressive. I'm scared Sh*&less to drive around here. God forbid you happen to zone out for a minute while driving and slightly exceed the speed limit. You bet the Houston fuzz will be on you like a fly on shite. I have driven all over this country for 14 years, and I've never had a speeding ticket. Come to Houston and two months later I have TWO. It goes to show you that they are overly aggressive. Everywhere else I've been, I've based my speed on the flow of traffic and road conditions. But I dare not in Houston! Now I'm so paranoid about my speed, it's no longer fun to drive!

Another thing that drives me nuts are the people. You folks here are very nice people BUT... please stop shoving your religion down my throat. Do you honestly think the BMW driving, rolex wearing, stadium owning, evangelical yahoos are doing what they're doing because they love god? NO! They love your WALLETS people. WAKE UP! Talk about a cult of personality..GEEZ! Where are the humble servants of the lord in Houston? You know, the ones without a stage, tv camera, and a microphone?

Sorry to be so negative. But believe me, I've tried so hard to like it here. I really have!


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