Houston is often criticized or lampooned by people from other parts of the country, but all that really means is that this city is notable enough to draw fire. People don't usually talk about boring places.
Still, a lot of the stereotypes that get flung our way are just silly, and any Houstonian who has traveled around the country has doubtlessly encountered those jabs at our city. Let's look at a few of these erroneous stereotypes a little closer.
1. Houston is full of cowboys.
Look, I'm not going to say that there aren't people living here who self-identify as "cowboys," or who reflect certain aspects of that lifestyle, but when I've talked with people from outside Texas, a lot of them are shocked to discover that not everyone in the greater Houston area is commuting to work on horseback while dressed like Slim Pickens in an old Western.
I suppose that's an appealing thought to a lot of outsiders, it probably makes Houston seem more exotic in their minds. But too many of them also use that stereotype to draw an unfair conclusion that Houstonians are all a bunch of primitive throwbacks in some sort of wild west fantasy land.
The fact is there are a lot of people living here who enjoy country music, riding horses and attending the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every year, but assuming that every Houstonian fits that profile is silly. It also pigeonholes a lot of those people unfairly. Just because someone is wearing a cowboy hat and boots does not mean that he or she isn't excited by fine art or the Symphony. It doesn't mean that person is making a living herding cows on the open range, either. A lot of them are probably computer programmers or something. Stereotypes project a simple image on people, reducing them to cartoon characters.
Houston has far too diverse of a population to just proclaim that all of us are cowboys. It's part of our culture, but it's not the totality of what Houston is.
Honorable mention goes to people that think everyone in Houston owns oil wells and is a member of the Ewing clan.
2. Houston = Huge ugly urban sprawl.
This seems to be a common perception among visitors or those who have never been to Houston but who like to hate on it. Beauty is completely subjective, but I guess if all you ever saw of Houston was the airports and freeway system, then, yes, a person could argue that it's not the most beautiful urban environment ever. But an individual who spent any time here would discover that there are lots of areas and attractions scattered throughout the Houston area that are nice to look at. Hermann Park, Memorial Park and the Arboretum all offer people ample natural beauty inside the city, and there are plenty of other examples that could be cited. There are also many different types of Houston neighborhoods, and a lot of them are really visually appealing. Judging a city by the view from its highways seems a bit silly to me. Critics should take a bike ride through the Heights or the Museum District, and then weigh in.
The often noted "urban sprawl" of Houston catches a lot of flack, too, but I see it as a strength. Just as Houston is comprised of many different kinds of people, it also is made up of many different types of neighborhoods, some of which have unique identities that make them seem like small towns within a huge city.
Neighborhoods like mid-century modern Glenbrook Valley are vastly different from the Heights or Meyerland. And that can be said of neighborhoods all over the area. That much-maligned sprawl allows people from all walks of life and incomes to find a place to call home. If Houston occupied a smaller geographic footprint, it might not have as many neighborhoods with such unique character. I believe that Houston's sheer size also allows for these very different areas within the city to develop. Yes, urban sprawl presents challenges, but geographically smaller cities with high populations also face problems of their own. Have you priced homes in New York City lately? Traffic is one of the most cited challenges of urban sprawl, but that may change over time.
Besides, I'm ready for those flying cars we've been promised for decades.
3. Houston's music scene sucks.
This is one of the ridiculous stereotypes about Houston, one that truly pisses me off. The idea that Houston doesn't have decent local music or that no notable bands have ever come from H-Town is laughable, but we routinely get no love in that regard.
I was in a bunch of local bands that played shows, put out music and toured the U.S., so maybe I'm just a little sensitive to the idea that Houston is some sort of musical wasteland. Even if I weren't, it's a stupid perception a lot of people living elsewhere seem to have.
It's true that there are really only a handful of cities in America that are famous for having "great" music scenes, places where there are enough music industry types and resources acting as a magnet for musicians with their hearts set on fame.
But there are great bands in lots of places not famous as "music cities," and Houston has spawned more than its share of great bands and performers. I could mention our contributions to hip-hop, or the fact that artists ranging from Lightnin' Hopkins to Kenny Rogers to D.R.I. once called Houston home. Houston even has an active electronic music scene, something not every city can claim. Every night there are great local bands playing in venues for little to no money, and rather than accept the notion that Houston doesn't have great music happening, more of us should get out and support those bands.
These are but three stupid things people seem to believe about the Bayou City, but I hear variations on the themes often, and too many share a basic perception that Houston is a huge, ugly city full of ignorant cowboys and Hank Hill types, bereft of any interesting art or music. Not only is that offensive, but it's patently untrue, and anyone who spent more than a couple of days actually exploring this town would quickly realize that fact.