Houston an Ugly City?

Highlights from Hair Balls

Spaced City

Houston has come a long way in the looks and self-esteem department.

Back when it was just a hamlet of a thing in the 1830s, people were already regarding Houston as something of a hot mess — the lawlessness was legendary, and draining off some of the swampland didn't nip all the potential for swamp-type diseases in the bud.

But that was a long time back, and since then Houston has gotten over the awkward kid phase and the gawky teenager era to become a lovely town in its own right.

Sure, everyone knows that the town is more striking than beautiful, but unlike some metropolises (ahem, Dallas), Houston knows that beauty is only skin-deep but character will get you far, and with a little aging and a little love, even the most awkward grown city can become a beauty if you choose to look at it right.

Obviously those bastards over at ucityguides.com are not seeing Houston through our eyes. According to them, Houston is one of the ten ugliest cities in the world (outranking even Detroit and Los Angeles, the only other U.S. cities on the list). And to add insult to injury, Dallas isn't even on the list.

We're not sure what they were thinking over there at the travel Web site, but we're more than certain they must have been thinking with a lot of stupid on their mind to even think of putting Houston on the list. So here are five reasons they are wrong:

5. Have they even been to Houston? Yes, like so many cities around the world, we have a high number of homeless people and poverty, but seriously, have they even been to this city? This all sounds like a lot of ugly statistics being recited here (they didn't even bother to put up a picture of the place — what, afraid Houston will come off looking quirky, gritty and original even when you're showing her from her most unflattering angles?) without any real look at the many good things about the city.

4. Look at how pretty we are (it's all in the angles). Yes, some people have complained about Houston's legendary lack of zoning, and yes, that lack of zoning has meant Houston has a sort of wild, galloping, overgrown thing going on, but it totally works for the city.

We aren't holier-than-thou, like Dallas, waiting for people to look past its history as the place-a-president-was-killed "City of Hate" and see that there are a couple of decent restaurants and a few good stores. We aren't all slutty like Austin, laying it all out there on a platter and hoping you'll be tricked by all the cleavage. No, there are lots of amazing things to see, do and enjoy in Houston, but whether you're hitting up the Menil, checking out Discovery Green or walking (safely in the daytime) along Buffalo Bayou, there's plenty of awesome stuff to enjoy from certain angles.

3. When it comes to driving, we're honest about who we are. Houston, like so many large, highly populated cities, comes with some crazy traffic. It can be daunting if you aren't used to it, but the thing about Houston drivers is they are completely honest about who they are.

Some cities produce drivers who will smile and wave and turn on the old signal blinker with all the sweetness and guile of a little old lady unwrapping a hard candy in a movie theater. Then the change comes as they drop all the sugary niceness and dart across 15 lanes of traffic determined to make their exit, even if it kills everyone in their path.

Here in Houston, we drop that pretense. There's no pretending, because from the second you wade into Houston traffic, everyone is trying to kill everyone else to get where they're going, no bones about it. The way the freeways are set up seems to discourage fake nicery, and you won't see a "friendly" wave before you're almost sideswiped on US 59, and you won't see a "grateful" one after.

2. We're different from what we used to be. Houston used to be all oil, NASA and a habit of tearing down anything that even smelled historical, as Hair Balls has noted before. The thing is, over the years Houston has gotten more complex, with people settling here from all over the world, and a population that at least considers giving it a second thought before demolishing old buildings and every vestige of the city as it once was. The result? A city with culture and quirkiness, excellent food, some damn fine theater and excellent museums. In growing and changing, Houston didn't try to imitate anyone else, so everything you see when the town displays itself is just Houston being Houston.

1. Everyone else finally sees Houston's inner awesome, so that list-maker must be blind. Houstonians have known our city was something special for a long while now, but it's been gratifying in recent years to see lots of different outfits stand and recognize the fact. Last year, Forbes named Houston the coolest city in America, noting how the city's job growth has kept right on going through the Great Recession and how the median age for the city is now 33.

As if being economically healthy and attractive to the young professional types weren't enough, Forbes also noted how Houston has become a place with an arts scene. While a certain travel Web site equated the lack of zoning to unsightly body hair, Forbes sees it as providing a wonderful mash-up of eclectic, multicultural cool. Damn right. They also went on to call Houston "America's next great global city." Hell, we're even ranked second happiest city in the nation (behind Dallas, but let's not talk about that). Is Houston perfect? Of course not, no city is. But the Hair Balls response to those who call Houston ugly? Go live in Dallas.

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