Another week, another couple of lists that say Houston is amazing, happy, funny, perfect, genius...I don't know. Harris Interactive did a poll to find the happiest cities among America's top 10 markets and Houston came in second behind Dallas/Ft. Worth. You'd be happy, too, if the boobs you'd just bought were the size of honeydew melons and your McMansion came complete with a bronze statue of J.R. Ewing in the entryway fountain. Apparently, people in San Francisco are miserable bastards because they came in last. So much for cool temperatures and a beautiful view to put pep in your step.
In a second mention of Houston, Forbes called us "America's next great global city." It also called us the capital of the Third Coast (the nickname for the Gulf Coast). Holy crap, we're awesome.
And it's great. For years, we've wished people would look past the sprawl, the pollution, the strip malls, the lack of public transportation, the failing infrastructure and the giant mosquitos to pat us on the back and say, "Houston, you're all right." Now you can barely pick up a national publication without them telling us how wonderful we are, like they're sucking up to us for something (cough...rolling blackouts...cough).
So, awesome and also yawn because we knew that already. We gave up on worrying about the national media back when a certain crappy tabloid newspaper in a city we'll only name by its initials -- NYC -- called us a "Hellhole." In some ways at that time, we probably were, but a lot has changed in 20 years.
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We've been chugging along making changes and now people are finally noticing. It's been slow, at times moving at a snail's pace, but it is happening, gradually the same way we went from stinky mud hole to slightly less stinky metropolis.
And we didn't do it because outsiders gave us the shaky finger of disapproval or because we want a flood of tourist dollars we'll likely never see anyway ("Come for the strip clubs, stay for the crippling humidity!"), but simply because we like living here and we want our lives and the lives of our children to be better.
It used to be that Houston was a blue-collar town requiring cheap housing and a low cost of living. That led to sprawl. It also led to a disinterest in historic preservation and a general neglect of beautification, and it's tough enough to make a swamp look pretty even if you work at it. As we transitioned from blue collar to white collar, we managed to keep the low-cost-of-living part while radically diversifying our population in race, age and income. We radically altered our economy while taking on major public construction projects. We changed ourselves and our city almost to its core. So it's no wonder people took notice.
We're a long way from done. We still have lots to do and there are some things we can't escape -- sorry, folks, we aren't re-landscaping the city to accommodate manmade mountains and seeding the clouds to lower sweltering temperatures -- but the city is better for our efforts. It's nice when people on the outside recognize how cool we are, but we don't need their accolades. We just need to keep doing what we are doing and the praise is sure to continue, and it will be justified.