There is burying the lede and then there is placing it at the bottom of a pit and imploding a skyscraper on top of it. Reuters reported on Sunday that within 10 years, Houston would edge Chicago as the country's third most populous city behind New York City and Los Angeles. Chicago's population is in decline and anyone who has lived in Houston for even a few years realizes ours is going the other way. By 2025, the number of residents here will jump to 2.7 million while Chicago will be at 2.5 million.
But, that isn't the story here. Demographics are interesting, but the real story here is the story itself. In the article by Jon Herskovitz, a writer from Austin according to his LinkedIN profile, the author manages to insult the city in the first sentence and backhandedly compliment Houston throughout.
"Hidden in the haze of the petrochemical plants and beyond the seemingly endless traffic jams, a Texas city has grown so large that it is poised to pass Chicago as the third biggest in the United States in the next decade," Herskovitz writes. He continues, "Houston has been one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities for years, fueled by an energy industry that provided the backbone of the economy, low taxes and prospects of employment that have attracted job seekers."
Just to summarize so far, Houston is polluted and devastated by ungodly traffic, but it has loads of employment prospects (no way people would live her otherwise). In essence, our city is the equivalent of fast food: It's mostly disgusting and will probably kill you before your time, but at least it's cheap!
Throughout the story, which quotes Mayor Annise Parker in her typical rah-rah-go-Houston fashion, Herskovitz manages to state a few moderately positive facts rather dryly — we have a big port, NASA is here, we embrace foreigners, our mayor is a lesbian — while simultaneously crapping all over our filthy, traffic-clogged port of lesbians and foreigners. "In between is a mass of relatively unplanned urban sprawl, strip malls, ethnic enclaves, trendy restraints (ed. — his spelling, not ours) and burgeoning green spaces lying under an umbrella of oppressive heat that lasts more than half the year," he says. After some additional, albeit faint, praise for our low unemployment, Herskovitz adds, "However, Houston's growth, coming with few zoning restrictions and a loose regulatory system in Texas, has led to persistent problems in air quality and traffic congestion."
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Perhaps the strangest of all is this mysterious quote in a section header: "'HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?'" The quote has no citation, leading us to believe this is what Herskovitz muttered to himself right before he started writing the story.
Look, no one here imagines Houston to be San Francisco or San Diego or whatever place by comparison makes us look only slightly better than a garbage dump sitting under the world's largest heat lamp. But damn. There are reasons other than jobs that people are moving here in droves. We are a cultural arts center, world-renowned for our food scene and loaded with green space. We have one of the largest medical centers in North America and multiple well-respected universities. Plus, Houstonians are nice folks who say, "Hi" to strangers and, more importantly, take in people in need even when the rest of the country won't (cough...Katrina...cough).
And while rent prices are now beginning to come in line with the rest of America, this is still a relatively inexpensive place to live. Who would apologize for that?
Yes, there is traffic. I can only assume the author has never been to any other major city in the U.S. if he thinks our traffic is worse than L.A. or Chicago. It comes with the territory. We also have pollution, owed far more to the cars on the road and unique summer weather patterns than the chemical refineries to the east of us. Then there is the heat, which doesn't span half the year anymore than Chicago is below freezing from November through May. But, be sure to call us in December when we are on a patio in our shorts sipping a frozen margarita. We'll be happy to lament how awful it is to live in Houston with our great food, abundant employment, amazing diversity and beautiful, mild winters.