Houston an Ugly City?

Five reasons it's not so.

Highlights from Hair Balls

Spaced City

Houston has come a long way in the looks and self-esteem department.

Back when it was just a hamlet of a thing in the 1830s, people were already regarding Houston as something of a hot mess — the lawlessness was legendary, and draining off some of the swampland didn't nip all the potential for swamp-type diseases in the bud.

But that was a long time back, and since then Houston has gotten over the awkward kid phase and the gawky teenager era to become a lovely town in its own right.

Sure, everyone knows that the town is more striking than beautiful, but unlike some metropolises (ahem, Dallas), Houston knows that beauty is only skin-deep but character will get you far, and with a little aging and a little love, even the most awkward grown city can become a beauty if you choose to look at it right.

Obviously those bastards over at ucityguides.com are not seeing Houston through our eyes. According to them, Houston is one of the ten ugliest cities in the world (outranking even Detroit and Los Angeles, the only other U.S. cities on the list). And to add insult to injury, Dallas isn't even on the list.

We're not sure what they were thinking over there at the travel Web site, but we're more than certain they must have been thinking with a lot of stupid on their mind to even think of putting Houston on the list. So here are five reasons they are wrong:

5. Have they even been to Houston? Yes, like so many cities around the world, we have a high number of homeless people and poverty, but seriously, have they even been to this city? This all sounds like a lot of ugly statistics being recited here (they didn't even bother to put up a picture of the place — what, afraid Houston will come off looking quirky, gritty and original even when you're showing her from her most unflattering angles?) without any real look at the many good things about the city.

4. Look at how pretty we are (it's all in the angles). Yes, some people have complained about Houston's legendary lack of zoning, and yes, that lack of zoning has meant Houston has a sort of wild, galloping, overgrown thing going on, but it totally works for the city.

We aren't holier-than-thou, like Dallas, waiting for people to look past its history as the place-a-president-was-killed "City of Hate" and see that there are a couple of decent restaurants and a few good stores. We aren't all slutty like Austin, laying it all out there on a platter and hoping you'll be tricked by all the cleavage. No, there are lots of amazing things to see, do and enjoy in Houston, but whether you're hitting up the Menil, checking out Discovery Green or walking (safely in the daytime) along Buffalo Bayou, there's plenty of awesome stuff to enjoy from certain angles.

3. When it comes to driving, we're honest about who we are. Houston, like so many large, highly populated cities, comes with some crazy traffic. It can be daunting if you aren't used to it, but the thing about Houston drivers is they are completely honest about who they are.

Some cities produce drivers who will smile and wave and turn on the old signal blinker with all the sweetness and guile of a little old lady unwrapping a hard candy in a movie theater. Then the change comes as they drop all the sugary niceness and dart across 15 lanes of traffic determined to make their exit, even if it kills everyone in their path.

Here in Houston, we drop that pretense. There's no pretending, because from the second you wade into Houston traffic, everyone is trying to kill everyone else to get where they're going, no bones about it. The way the freeways are set up seems to discourage fake nicery, and you won't see a "friendly" wave before you're almost sideswiped on US 59, and you won't see a "grateful" one after.

2. We're different from what we used to be. Houston used to be all oil, NASA and a habit of tearing down anything that even smelled historical, as Hair Balls has noted before. The thing is, over the years Houston has gotten more complex, with people settling here from all over the world, and a population that at least considers giving it a second thought before demolishing old buildings and every vestige of the city as it once was. The result? A city with culture and quirkiness, excellent food, some damn fine theater and excellent museums. In growing and changing, Houston didn't try to imitate anyone else, so everything you see when the town displays itself is just Houston being Houston.

1. Everyone else finally sees Houston's inner awesome, so that list-maker must be blind. Houstonians have known our city was something special for a long while now, but it's been gratifying in recent years to see lots of different outfits stand and recognize the fact. Last year, Forbes named Houston the coolest city in America, noting how the city's job growth has kept right on going through the Great Recession and how the median age for the city is now 33.

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55 comments
WillieStortz
WillieStortz

The city is pretty compared to the soul of the people that live in it.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Just in case you are bummed about how Houston looks, you could go with this ...


Houston, We may not be pretty, but look at Baytown!

TheFantasticG
TheFantasticG

I'd move to Co. or Wa. if it wasn't so expensive or far away from family.

Houston city planners need to take a page out of Singapore's book when it comes to city planning. Want to be a pretty city? Stop cutting down all the trees is step #1.

attyrose31
attyrose31

As a life-long second generation owner of multiple pieces of real estate in Houston, I too think a great deal of Houston is a very ugly city and have thought so ever since I was able to notice such things.  There are some very attractive spots in and around Houston but unfortunately, because Houston has long been controlled by real estate interests who are more interested in making money by putting up cheap looking strip shopping centers with ugly signage, built on poorly maintained streets, Houston will continue to be considered an overall ugly city.

One only has to imagine oneself a first time visitor to Houston either flying or driving into town along anyone one of the freeways.  What an awful first impression you would receive driving into town from Hobby or IAH airport.  Until Houston is willing to take itself seriously and strive to be viewed as a first class city by cleaning up the roads from visual blight, Houston will never be ranked as high on various quality of life polls that seem so popular until visitors who come here to survey the city are exposed to a more attractive approach into the city. 

Years ago there was a big brouhaha over the passage of a billboard ordinance designed to reign in the number one issue of blight on the city.  As I recall, the billboard ordinance went into effect but it appears to have had no affect on the overall appearance of the city.  Houston is the only large city I have visited that has freeways that serve as  a corridor for businesses that can be seen from the service roads along the freeways.  Virtually every other major city has freeways that are either below grade or have solid barriers so that someone driving down the freeway cannot even see what is beyond the boundaries of the freeway itself.  Here, we have service roads that serve developers of ugly strip centers.  Until that changes, Houston will never be written up as a beautiful, well-maintained city.  

Similarly, as long as the streets are full of potholes and the sidewalks lining the streets are broken and uneven, Houston will never be considered a beautiful place because it will continue to look like it is poorly maintained regardless of how expensive and beautiful the homes and other buildings may be along those pothole riddled streets. 

       

ramentertainment08
ramentertainment08

Not certain why the writer of this article found it appropriate to portray dallas and austin in a negative light" downsouth is downsouth no matter the city. Like the majority that reside in Houston I am not from here" from Spokane and LA to be exact i will not lie and say that upon my arrival i found Houston something that could fall under the ranks of delightful to ones eye especially considering the air in Houston versus up north" but i will say that Houston definetly does not belong on this list and as far as i am concerned the ones who compiled this list are obviously oblivious to that which is marvelous" so screw the critics &screw that conclusion Houston rocks!!!

jacobsimonbocanegra
jacobsimonbocanegra

Houston has some nice downtown architecture. were an oil/energy city, we got cheap home, no state income tax and alot to do on the cheap, good food too. dont like it?? piss off wanker.


cscottgeorge
cscottgeorge

"There's plenty of awesome stuff to enjoy from certain angles." - really? That's like saying she looked good last night at the bar...

I love this city for many reasons *Awesome people, art, and the international vibe. 

Unfortunately, our city's idea of beauty is lacing our should-be pretty bayou with cement "trails" and walkways. I'd call them mini I10s and 610s. 

And why so harsh on Dallas and ATX? 




drew1214
drew1214

So clearly Houston has some problems (i.e. horrible roads, relevant tourist areas, and public transport) but it is a far cry from any other major city.  Complaints about homeless people??  Visit San Fran, NYC, Seattle, AUSTIN, Denver, and almost any other city with more than 500k people and there are so many more homeless people.  Homeless people are going to naturally like places they can accost people by foot and clearly most detractors (as well as me)  agree Houston does not lend itself to pedestrians.  Bad smells?  NYC has lots of great things about it, but it smells like a total dump.  The beautiful areas in NYC most of us cannot even come close to affording to live in so who really cares.  If thats the logic you would all be bragging about Memorial or West U nice neighborhoods with good school districts if you have a minimum of $1M to throw down for a 3 bedroom.  

tyreedillard
tyreedillard

Houston is a boomtown and all boomtowns are ugly. Every great large city was once a boomtown. Get use to it because Houston is what major cities that are still growing looks like.

Ive lived all my life in and around the major east coast cites. Every negative thing you all say about Houston are the same complaints we have had and still have about NY,  Philly and every city with more than a million people in its core. You want to talk about crime, traffic, homeless, and general city wide ugliness, please. In the 70's and 80's my parents and friends called all the 5 boroughs, New Yuck, and beaches, Coney Island is Galveston with a hot dog stand.  Houstons worst area has nothing on the Bronx. Now you can't forget about Filth-a-delphia, where every subway station in center city smells like a toilet because it too has very few if any public restrooms. Walk around center city Philadelphia at night and I doubt you would use one anyway without a Marine escort.

All of you complaining about all the immigrants and how Houston isn't like it was. Go read about NY in the turn of the century when all your great grand parents were flooding into Ellis Island. The only thing missing from some of your posts is a picture of Daniel Day Lewis waving a meat cleaver.  

I first came to Houston 30 years ago and I still love every ugly, smelly, immigrant filled inch of it.  

sideburn27
sideburn27

I grew up in Houston...I left because of all the reasons this article points out.  I remember having to plan an hour in advance to do anything just to take into account the traffic...none of my friends lived close by any means...It's flat.  It's hot and humid a majority or the year and it's boring.   The only thing I miss is the diversity of the people and the food and that's about it.  The only real 'touristy' spot is Galveston, and that a shitty beach too....I live in Denver now and love it.  I may be paying alot more to leave up here, but it's a small price to pay for what I gave up down there. 

shuvanidev
shuvanidev

Houston is what it is.... it's not a beautiful city, it doesn't have any fantastic geographical landmarks (the bay and ship channel, no way, other cities have gorgeous shorelines, but not here...), there are no incredible antiquities, it has a substandard public transport system, it's not a pedestrian friendly city.  It's a utilitarian city, it wasn't created to be a tourist destination.  It was created by industry for people to work, do commerce and live in..... though there are some really pretty areas within it (if you can afford it), as a whole it's just not a beautiful place and yet most certainly not the worst.  


Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

okay where are all the comments!  I only see 5 out of 19

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

I was born and raised in Houston and have lived and worked in Houston (downtown for the latter), and from a 25th story office window, it looks pretty nice but at street level, it is 1 big hot mess!  Homeless panhandlers begging for change (how's that hope and change working for ya??), trash on the streets and let's not forget the odors from the sewers below the streets!  Just what 1 needs first thing in the morning on their way to work, right??  Ugh, no thanks!!  Even now, after we moved our offices to Westheimer, I take the bus and have to ride through the urban blight that is lower Westheimer, otherwise known as Montrose, most of the businesses look like glamorized crack houses.  Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stay in Spring where it's clean and pretty.

toryu88
toryu88

Houston is a pretty city...from the air.  I had a 20th floor office and I was amazed at how pretty it was seeing I could only see trees.  Its the same from the air.  But drive the city streets is another matter.  Houston is a trash heap.  The roads are abysmal, thanks to Former Mayor Brown, who did nothing in his tenure but hire a boatload of minority middle managers in city government and put the city in the red.  There are parts of town where you feel like a minority and if you woke up from a "hangover weekend" you might think you were in Mexico or Saigon, with all the third world filth to go with it.  I am actually embarassed when people come from out of town to visit.  I try to keep them on the freeways from destination to destination to keep them from seeing the inner city squalor.  Downtown is a joke too.  I stay in the burbs and out of the city as much as possible.  Festivals?  You kidding?  Its like a fire ant mound that's been kicked.  I think at some time in the future, they should rename the city Cidudad Juarez de Norte.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

Goodness, did Houston get their feelings hurt?  Since "ugly" is relative, why are you upset?  I would contend that almost any major city has an ugliness to it.  For Houston, one of your ugliest areas is south of the 610-45 intersection.  Yes, it improves once you go further south.  But, let's face it, it is damn ugly.  Oh, and what about the ship channel?  Nice, eh? 

Ace87
Ace87

This article is pathetic and just shows the horrible mentality of Houstonians. I may be biased since I hate this city, but I don't see how someone can try to pass off dangerous driving as a good thing about a place.

Houston is a mess thanks to no zoning and people who are too whiny to destroy old junk in order to create a new better place. There is nothing to do in this city. I literally saw all of Houston's attractions in 1 day! Instead of criticizing other cities Houston should try and learn from them and become better.

Houston will never be a great city, I am embarrassed to tell people I currently live here. Houston is a place for people who like chaos and disorder. I will be moving out at the first chance I get.

P.S. I've lived in New York City for over 16 years, so I know what a REAL city is like. I know I can't single handedly change a whole city, it's just sad because Houston could have been a good city.

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

No , Not ugly at all. Only prejudiced inbreds are.  As a whole, Houston is full of great people, great places and things to do!

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@attyrose31 Hmm so potholes = ugly city? Interesting...I'm a native Houstonian and moved to NY temp a few years back. Yeah NY streets are like the surface of the moon and that's a beautiful city so can't agree with the ugly city - pothole correlation. 

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@cscottgeorge If you're in sales, you get compared to what your fellow peers are doing as far as performance goes...same idea here. 

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@drew1214 Just got back from San Francisco, went to the Texans-49ers game. None of us had ever been to SF before WOOOOOW THEY HAVE TONS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE!!! 

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@sideburn27 Hi I'm sideburn27 blah blah and I hate Houston so much that I'm going to constantly log on to the HOUSTON Press & keep up with the happenings in the city I hated so much- hell I'll EVEN take the time to comment. 

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@toryu88 You're not a racist at all lol..."there are parts of town where you feel like a minority" ..."you might think you were in Mexico or Saigon" lmaoo. Dude have you ever traveled outside of Harris County and umm yeah going to Galveston on a family vacation is not "traveling" sorry bro. Well let me tell ya what lies yonder...you're gonna be blown away by how many different type of "Mericans" there are out there in larger cities. And maybe the reason why you feel like a minority is b/c your race is mixing with those "Mesicans" and "Vet-namees" you seem to hate so much...karma sux my man but at times it works wonders. 

pgc77099
pgc77099

@Ace87 actually I am pretty glad you moved to NYC, and the other guy who moved to Denver.  What we need are supporters not detractors.  I have lived her nearly 60 years, never ever needed a little extra money and unable to find a part time job in addition to working, always, full time.  Anyone who has no job in Houston DOES NOT want one.  You sure cannot say that in Denver, unless you sell pot.

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

@Ace87 Agreed Ace, like I said above, I was born and raised here and Houston was actually a very nice place back then (giving out  my age, right? lol).  We used to go to the Houston Zoo, Herman Park and the Museums but now I don't dare go there for fear of being a victim.  Through 1 democrat mayor after the other, it has only gotten worse.  This article is indeed a joke.  I've never been to NY, but I can only hope it's better than D/T Houston.

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

@Schitt.C.Rumpney Prejudiced inbreds??  Seriously??  I guess everywhere you go, you see rainbows and unicorns, right?  <eye roll> I'm a realist. I don't expect Houston to be the Emerald City, but it could do a lot to improve itself.


sideburn27
sideburn27

@RedIsNotADrink actually, there was a link on Denver's version of the Press...'the westword'...believe me, I do not keep up with the happenings in Houston. 

I used to visit from time to time, but stopped when about 80% of my friends moved to Austin, so I go there instead. It's not like I'm alone on this, but I do understand your need to defend it...you still live there.  (I'll take Houston over Dallas anyday though)

toryu88
toryu88

Redisnota drink:

By the age of 24 I had lived in more places than you have visited in your life.  I've lived and worked in Asia, Europe, Mexico, and Bolivia just to name a few.  I've lived in 8 different states and visted all the rest.  Racist?  No, just disgusted by what I see the 3rd worlders are turning our country into.  If I wanted to live like a third worlder I'd go live where they came from.  When you invite someone into your home, like say the Vietnamese refugees and the legal immigrants, you don't expect them to shiite in your living room.  That's exactly what a lot of them do.  They bring the disregard for themselves and their surroundings here and turn our cities into the same kind of cesspool that they fled from in the first place.  I work with a lot of immigrants, highly educated and respectable people.   Sadly not all the immigrants legal or illegal behave like they do.  From your comments, and I am not your bro, I gather your dad swam the river, or ran from the fight in his own country, to live here. Its only by that twist of fate that you ended up here speaking english.  My ancestors have been here since 1740.  I don't hate anyone, I just hate what these people are doing to our cities.  With the help of our Prez, they will succeed in turning our country into the same kind of place that they fled in the first place.

Ace87
Ace87

Being able to find employment doesn't take away any of the ugliness and other negative factors of houston.

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

@Ace87 And another thing that grinds my gears about downtown is NO PUBLIC BATHROOMS!!  Most places have those locks on them that require a code to gain entrance!  Homeless people have gotten so bad about breaking pipes for the metal or just destroying the bathrooms altogether, that they are kept locked at all times.  And especially downtown, if you try to find a place to eat after 4pm, forget about it!  They all lock up around that time. So if you miss lunch or want to pick up something on the way home you are SOL!

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

Do you really think i think everywhere else is HEAVEN? does the prejudices of others make Houston ugly? Not if you ignore inbreds so they dry up.

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

If you want to argue we can. The statement means what it says. HOUSTON as a city -4th Largest U.S.City is not ugly in and of itself. Its the Racists what makes ANY place ugly.

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

@bossladymartin48 @Schitt.C.Rumpney 

I dont know if my replies are floating around but here goes again:  i am not sure which you mean, Houston is ugly due to prejudices or homeless?


I work downtown and ride metro to my parking contract location.  It is all good to me.  the homeless could use more attention

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

Not sure which you mean the downtown and metro being ugly or no such thing as prejudices in the city? I work down town and it looks all good to me. I ride metro from a parking location and no probs. :D

attyrose31
attyrose31

@RedIsNotADrink @attyrose31 It does not seem like this is a particularly hot story on the Houston Press website and that could be part of the problem.  As to whether or not the mayor called to have the streets to her home smoothly  paved, most likely the head of road maintenance might have had enough sense to keep her street attractive and well-paved without her calling simply to insure their job security. 

As far as whether I have "it in" for the mayor, I just do not find her to be a very inspiring person or someone with particularly good taste who would be capable of thinking what might make the city look more attractive to the world.   I do not think she focuses on such things.  As she told Andrea Mitchell the day after her first inauguration, first and foremost her focus is on the budget.  Unfortunately, she does not have enough sense to realize that sometimes the more attractive a place might appear to the outside world, the higher the property values go, ultimately generating more in tax revenue.  


RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@attyrose31 @RedIsNotADrink Sounds like you have it in for Parker- JS. I'm sure she took the time to call the paving crew just do her street while ignoring the others...especially knowing that no one would notice how shady that would look. And I have no political affiliation here. 

attyrose31
attyrose31

@RedIsNotADrink @attyrose31 Interestingly, our bookkeeper-in-chief, Annise Parker lives on a street that is as smooth as glass and consequently it looks pretty nice and fancy.  Around the corner from her house, the streets have potholes and even though there are redone, attractive houses, they do not look as nice because the street in front of them looks terrible. 

 

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@cscottgeorge @RedIsNotADrink In regards to your comment above about "why so harsh on Dallas and ATX". Those other cities are our closest "peers" so that's who you're going to compare yourself to, it's only natural. 

RedIsNotADrink
RedIsNotADrink

@sideburn27 I wasn't defending it, just thought it was weird that you bashed the city yet you're on here keeping up with it, one might think you miss it. But you explained what brought you to the site, fair enough. 

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

@Schitt.C.Rumpney What is your deal with ''inbreds''??  Something go wrong in your family tree?  I left Houston for the Woodlands over a year ago, and yes, it is Heaven.

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

@bossladymartin48 @Schitt.C.Rumpney 


The article says "IS HO:USTON UGLY"...the answer is "NO" but the ugliness comes from prejudices....and this means MORE than a hate toward another "race".  It can be gender.


You said race, i didnt....you assumed.  

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

@Schitt.C.Rumpney Who said anything about race??  I was referring to the homeless population and the general filthyness.  I never mentioned race, you must have assumed it.


Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

Its not the city thats ugly, its the attitude of some living here.

bossladymartin48
bossladymartin48

@Schitt.C.Rumpney it's ugly due to the growing number of homeless, the garbage, the sewer smells, the lack of restroom facilities, crime, and just the plain ugliness that is downtown.  I ride a park and ride from Woodlands to downtown, then catch a Metro from downtown to the Galleria area.  The only pleasant part of my commute is on the park and ride to and from work.

 
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