It's strange. I've lived in and around Houston my whole life, all over the place, and I've noticed a weird "friction" develop between some people in regards to life either in or outside of the 610 Loop. I guess it's part of human nature for some people to look at those with different lifestyles than themselves as being outsiders, or to make judgments about the choices they've made. But that's pretty lame.
In the case of these Inner Loop versus Outer Loop debates, the weird distrust of people living in other neighborhoods just seems dumb to me. Here are a few of the reasons why these attitudes seem so silly when I really think about it.
First of all, one of the things that makes Houston really special is its sheer size and diversity. It's a huge city, and has a vibrant energy running throughout, and it's got many interesting neighborhoods scattered all over town. I have friends all over the the United States as well as in other countries, and I'm amazed at the bad reputation Houston has. So are a lot of them once they actually visit, and discover the city is vastly more interesting than they thought it was based on its national image. It just seems sad to encounter people who live inside the loop who think that nothing outside of it is worthwhile, or outer loopers who view folks living inside 610 as pretentious creeps.
Houston belongs to all of us. There's nothing that prevents someone living on the northwest side of town from enjoying destinations inside the loop, nor are inner-loopers prevented from exploring all of the cool things the rest of the city has to offer. Frankly, anyone who lives in Houston but doesn't get out of his own neighborhood to look around other parts of town from time to time is really missing out on a lot this city has to offer. For example, the Asian shopping centers on the southwest side of Houston are amazing, and they are but one example of many unique areas scattered all over the city. That's true of restaurants, too. Houston is emerging as one of the nation's most exciting food scenes, and great places to eat are spread out far and wide. Sticking to just one area of town is pretty limiting.
One of the commonly cited advantages to living inside the loop is that it's close to destinations like the city's museums, and that's pretty cool. Houston's museums are pretty remarkable. But I lived inside the loop for years, and didn't find that I was typically visiting the museums any more frequently than when I've lived outside the loop, nor did I observe many of my friend's visitation patterns changing because they happened to live nearer or farther from certain places.
What is really more of an issue is that different neighborhoods are geared toward certain lifestyles more than others, and what works for one person might not work for another. For instance, I know quite a few people who live inside the loop who don't own cars and don't want them. They can get around fairly easily on a bike or the bus, and rarely feel the need to leave their neighborhood. I know other people who decided to move into outer loop neighborhoods because they wanted their money to go further. Buying a house with a large yard was more economically possible outside the loop, and they didn't mind driving more to get places. I asked my friend, Joe Haynes, what his experiences were living inside and outside the loop:
"I liked living inside the loop because of all the alternate routes. When I lived outside the loop I was more or less stuck with taking the freeway. There were surface streets that could get me places, but it would almost always take longer than just sticking it out on the freeway. When I was inside the loop I could cut through neighborhoods and stay off of major streets like Kirby or Shepherd, avoid traffic, and get places faster."
That's a legitimate perk of living inside the loop when you rarely leave the area. It's very convenient for some people to live in an area where they don't have to hit the highway to commute from work to their home.
There's also the issue of expense. The inner loop is rapidly becoming more and more expensive to live in, especially for anyone who wants to buy their own home. I know a lot of people who were long term residents of neighborhoods like Montrose or The Heights, who quickly decided to look to outer loop areas because their money was going to go a lot farther.
As to that advantage of living outside the loop, Joe added this:
"I do like some of the things outside the loop because with a little searching you can find older neighborhoods that have large lots and trees. My dad was able to find a house house that backed up to a bayou. It felt like being in the country, but wasn't much farther out than Hobby Airport."
A house with a large lot and trees inside the 610 Loop is going to cost a lot more than its equivalent somewhere a few miles further out. I recently bought a home in Sharpstown, an area with a largely undeserved bad reputation, and was able to find a nice mid-century modern home with huge trees on a corner lot, with a pool and a detached game room for less than what townhomes were selling for in my old area of The Heights. It fit my needs and lifestyle, and is still maybe 15 minutes away from downtown if I want to be close in. This is not to bash living in the Inner Loop, but just to illustrate that there are many great neighborhoods in Houston that fit a variety of different lifestyles and personal circumstances. I like feeling connected to the city, not cut off in some odd way from what's going on elsewhere.
I think that we all have our preferences about where we'd like to live, but rather than judging someone else's choice or making assumptions about them based on that, we'd all do well to remember that we live in an enormous city. There are a lot of great areas of town with their own character, and that diversity is something to take pride in.