We recently took a look at the 10 Biggest Bummers of Houston's Decade; in the spirit of equal time (and the season), we now offer the 10 Biggest Non-Bummers of the Oughts.
This being Houston, some of these happy developments have a not-so-happy side, but that's to be expected, we suppose.
Are we missing anything? Let us know.
10. Several terrific new places to hear music opened.
Ten years ago there was no Verizon Wireless, no House of Blues, no Washington Avenue strip to speak of, and no Hobby Center for musical comedies.
Houston was short on the kind of mid-sized venues that attract some good-but-not-superstar acts, and we paid the price. It's a price we no longer have to pay.
Downside: The Verizon can be pretty soulless, the House of Blues can't totally escape its chain feel, and some of the bars on Washington Avenue are filled with the kind of people who go to those type of bars.
9. The Katy Freeway project finally got finished, more or less.
The earth had just begun to cool when officials announced they would be expanding the Katy Freeway. Several traffic-choked millenia later, the thing is done. (Although it will never be really "done," of course.) There are too many lanes to count on the thing right now, and its possible to get on it -- even near rush hour -- and not sit for long, long stretches of time with your foot on the brake.
Downside: Pouring concrete to enable more gas-guzzling is not, perhaps, the most forward-thinking strategy possible. And the expansion wiped out the Katy railroad tracks, which might have been used for commuter rail. Of course, that side of town is represented by Congressman John Culberson, who never met a highway project he didn't love.
8. Annise Parker was elected.
Houston got a blast of startled worldwide opinion this month when it elected a lesbian as a mayor. An actual lesbian-type person!! In Houston!! There was much, too much, of Houstonians patting themselves on the back for proving just how open-minded and progressive we are. On the other hand, it is absolutely a milestone of sorts to have conducted an election without Parker's sexual orientation becoming a big issue. Twenty-five years ago, it would have been impossible.
Downside: Like we say, things are being a bit overdone. When the visitors' bureau talks about pitching Houston as a vacation destination for gays, you know it's time to take it down a notch or two.
7. Houston has survived the Great Recession better than most places.
No one is jumping for joy over the economic conditions here, but things could be a whole lot worse. From the acres of empty, half-built McMansions in Southern California and Florida to the utterly hopeless cities of the Rust Belt, anyone can see that we should thank our lucky stars for how we've made it through relatively okay so far.
Downside: Key words there are "relatively" and "so far."
6. The Astros World Series run.
Yeah, we know we listed this as a Bummer of the Decade, but that's because of what happened in the Series. The actual run-up to it, and the seasons building up to it, included some of the most dramatic and intense moments in Houston sporting history. One of our favorites, because we were there, was when two key events occurred all but simultaneously late in the year -- fans obsessively watching the out-of-town scoreboard were rewarded by the posting of the final score of a key loss by an Astros' rival just as an Astro drove in some clutch game-winning runs. We're shaky on the details (Jeff Kent, maybe?) but we remember the adrenaline buzz that erupted in Minute Maid.
Downside: The Astros weren't named a Bummer for no reason. Things went downhill after they won the pennant, and the slide isn't slowing down any time soon.
5. The light rail system opened.
Houston has been trying for years and years to build a rail system; the only good thing to come out of it was millions for consulting firms (that's assuming you worked for one), and for, we're sure, playing a part in inspiring this:
Since 1990, we were the largest U.S. city without rail of any kind. That changed on New Year's Day 2004 when the 7.5 mile-long line from UH-Downtown to Reliant Stadium opened.
Downside: Since then, no other rail has been built. And the need to build ridership figures caused Metro to eliminate any competing bus routes, making some passengers have to walk further to get to stops. Oh, and the whole one-third-of-a-billion cost.
4. Three new sports facilities were built.
The Oughts saw the opening of Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center, all great places to watch a game. Minute Maid and Toyota are both downtown, further bringing some life to the area after dark. And none of the venues are as over-the-top ridiculous as Jerry Jones's new Cowboys stadium.
Downside: Building hugely expensive facilities for ultra-rich franchise owners is always worthy of a cringe. And Minute Maid and Toyota haven't exactly delivered on the extravagant "downtown rejuvenation" promises supporters over-promised.
3. The city's response to Katrina.
An even larger dose of positive worldwide publicity for Houston -- TV screens and newspapers in every language on earth, it seems, had pictures of the Astrodome opening its doors to folks escaping the hell that New Orleans had become. Ad-libbing on the fly, officials put together a concrete showing of how you take care of a neighbor in trouble.
Downside: As everyone knows who gets their news from angry old people calling local talk-radio shows, the Katrina refugees brought with them a drug-fueled crime wave that brought this city to its knees, apparently.
2. We got the Houston Texans.
Yeah, yeah, we know they haven't really delivered in their eight years. But Houston without a professional football team was just not Houston.
Downside: We're still looking for that first winning season.
1. Discovery Green opened.
For some reason, downtown planners never saw the need to build any enticing green space in the central business district. Their idea of downtown nature was Tranquility Park. With the opening of Discovery Green, though, Houston took a major step forward in making downtown a destination spot. Cleverly designed to minimize the scorching summer heat, the park offers some great events, and plenty to do for families and hipsters alike.
Downside: You don't want to look too closely at the real-estate flipping that accompanied the project's announcement.
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