Houston 101

Since Harvey, Here are 8 Things People Learned About Houston

Hurricane Harvey taught folks a lot about the city of Houston.
Hurricane Harvey taught folks a lot about the city of Houston. Photo by Brandon Navarro
It's been a year since Hurricane Harvey unleashed the country's worst flooding across the region. Maybe you've heard about it? After all, it is the subject of approximately 10,000 stories spread across media from here and around the globe. They seem to come in a variety of flavors: sympathetic, frustrated, ambivalent, confused. There is both the desire to provide the gentle hand of comfort and the wagging finger of judgment. It's like when a loved one dies and no one knows what to say to you. They just sort of stand there awkwardly and talk about the weather.

There are a few that have come pretty close to understanding post-Harvey Houston. But, for most, there is a sense that Houston will never be the same. People like to make grand proclamations like that after disasters even though it's technically true, but not in the way or to the degree that they mean.

It does seem, however, those who have taken a keen interest in the Bayou City since Mother Nature dumped 50-plus inches of water on us have learned a few things. Things we already knew.

Houston is big.

Hearing about Houston's sprawl is a little like hearing about our lack of zoning. It's pervasive and relatively low-hanging fruit in the "this is why Houston flooded" narrative. But, we do think maybe people are finally starting to grasp just how big it is. There is far more talk of Houston as a region, not just a city. And there is at least some realization that a relatively small percentage of homes were devastated by the floods. It serves to both underscore the needs of communities within the larger community and remind everyone that our world didn't end last August, nevermind the startlingly grim pictures spread across news outlets in the aftermath.

Houston is resilient.

Honestly, this is a common refrain after a tragedy or natural disaster as if the only choice you have it to abandon all hope, and anyone who chooses to survive is a bad ass. Many are. Some aren't. Still, what may be unique in this particular discussion as it pertains to this particular city is how quickly we recovered. Not necessarily in the literal sense. There are still tons of people repairing homes and rebuilding their lives. But, rather from an emotional standpoint. We were smiling and laughing the day after all hell broke loose. Sure, we cried too. But, if there is anything to learn about us, it's that we don't let much get us down for too long. You gotta be tough to live in a swamp.

Houston is diverse.

This is a drum that has been beaten to death mainly because of the great political divide in our nation and how Houston seems an aberration compared to the rest of the distinctly red and overtly conservative south. Texas, especially, has this reputation. So, a town that is both built on the backbone of the oil industry and one of the most radically diverse places in the country is confusing to people who like their divisions to be not so messy.

click to enlarge Who needs the Coast Guard when you have a s*** ton of jon boats? - PHOTO BY DOOGIE ROUX
Who needs the Coast Guard when you have a s*** ton of jon boats?
Photo by Doogie Roux
Houston is friendly.

As a result, it has almost been a requirement to love thy neighbor, regardless of where he or she is from, what they do and who they love. There's not choice really if you live inside these city limits. That was on full display when rainbow coalitions of flood evacuees huddled together on boats (with their pets), offering each other comfort and a caring hand. As media outlets have reported on Houston in the intervening months, some have been surprised to find that same level of camaraderie alive and well, flood or not.

Houston is self-reliant.

Probably nothing spoke more to who we are as Houstonians than the fleet of personal water craft launched into the muddy waters Harvey left behind. Outsiders marveled when leaders actually encouraged citizens to help one another and lend aid to first responders. As many of us have heard repeatedly since, the government couldn't save us. We had to save ourselves. This is one of the numerous intersections with our state on a larger scale. Texas has always been a maverick. If we inherited anything from that DNA, self-reliance certainly is on the list.

Houston is used to it. All of it.

Of course, some of our willingness to brave the storm is built simply on experience. We've been through many floods and hurricanes before. That bottled water, those extra batteries and the good flashlight on the shelves in the garage are there for a reason every summer. But, we're also used to surprise when people find out all these things and how they struggle to make sense of why we are the way we are. We don't have a desire to philosophize it. We're more a do city than a be city. As former Mayor Annise Parker once said, "No one cares who you are in Houston. We care what you can do."

click to enlarge We don't like this scene any more than you do, but it's not like we haven't seen it before. - PHOTO BY MEAGAN FLYNN
We don't like this scene any more than you do, but it's not like we haven't seen it before.
Photo by Meagan Flynn
Houston is complicated.

Which brings us to the one thing that seems universal: our city is confounding. It's big and sprawl-y and ugly and filled with traffic. It rains and floods and breeds mosquitos in the hot humid aftermath. But, it's friendly and progressive and smart. It's innovative and folksy and self deprecating. There's no sense trying to understand it. Even we don't fully get it. And that's just fine because...

Houston is unapologetic.

Houstonians used to apologize for all those things the rest of the world saw as flaws. We gave up on that self conscious pose a while back. This surprises anyone who used to enjoy beating up on us or raising us up as something not to be. Now people are calling us cool and hip and "the city of the future." We don't really know if that is true. More likely, we're just a city trying to fix our mistakes and make better decisions for our children and grandchildren. But, we're not going to sweat it any more than we're going worry whether you like it or not. We're cool with it either way.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke