Ain’t Skeered

Craig Hlavaty over at the Chronicle breathlessly asks, should Houston be kept a secret?

Nope. Here’s why.

It’s a stupid question – Everyone has always known about Houston, it’s just that the dominant opinion among east and left-coasters was negative. To the extent that’s now changing, this amounts to complaining “our city which was previously seen in a negative light is now seen as slightly less negative.”

These lists are stupid – This week’s Onion has a spot-on send-up of every “best cities” list you’ve ever read. Go read it.

We’re already corporate – Austin was a university town and the seat of state government, so the arrival of the tech industry was jarring. You have all of these nonprofit service-sector entities surrounded by fields of pastoral goodness then suddenly, capitalism. Houston, though, is an oil town, a port town, a medical town, and our ship channel is lined with only the heaviest of heavy industry. This has always been a city that was in touch with its inner Ferengi.

We already sprawl – My Austin friends tend to complain that the city’s rapid growth has lead to sprawl, big new housing developments, tollways everywhere. You know what they say? “It looks like Houston now.” Hard to get all bent out of shape if Houston ends up looking like… Houston.

No Zoning – In Austin, as in other cities that have undergone yuppification/gentrification, you see rapid price increases as the allowable density under zoning fails to keep up with increasing demand. In Houston you see no such thing. Individual neighborhoods may experience it; the Montrose, in particular, has become increasingly unmoored from reality. But Houston as a whole is still ridiculously affordable.

More specifically, the “cool” neighborhoods which we’re all supposed to feel compelled to “preserve” have now moved outside the boundaries of the actual street grid to encompass typical suburban street and lot patterns. Craig Hlavaty’s piece mentions redevelopment in Garden Oaks, which some time ago became regarded as a sort of extension of the Heights. However, what is Garden Oaks? It’s large lot single family on curving streets without sidewalks. Houston has no shortage of large lot single family on curving streets without sidewalks. In fact, it’s pretty much all we built for about 50 years or so.

Therefore, if the “cool” and “hip” people are ever priced out of Garden Oaks (leaving aside the question of how cool Garden Oaks ever really was to begin with), they will no doubt find some other midcentury suburbia to claim as their own. I coined the term “Sagemont is the new Heights” three years ago but it could just as easily be Sharpstown. I know some cool people who’ve picked up lots on the cheap in Long Point/Spring Branch and have built ridiculously dope modernist boxes, so maybe that’ll be the next “in” place. And when all of this has run its course the hipsters can “discover” Mission Bend, which was the outer fringe 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, legions of realtors will happily guide Californians into Cross Creek Ranch, where they will curse the fact that HCTRA hasn’t implemented my inverse distance-based pricing schemes. Really, it’ll all work out.

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2 responses to “Ain’t Skeered

  1. Should? Lol. It’s not like the news media will hush up about Houston just because a lot of people may not want to attract an even higher influx of people. I’m pretty sure I recall seeing news articles about how the last census indicated that the Houston metropolitan region grew the most (or one of the top 5 at least) than any other region of the country during the last decade. So trying to hush now doesn’t mean much.

    Houston has its issues, but people that live here are obviously willing to overlook and deal with it. It’s about time this city has started to gain some respect at least. So annoying every time I hear non-Texans gush only about Austin every time they think of the state. Especially when there was that Reddit thing a few months ago where people thought if any state should be dropped, which one and why. There were people that said Texas of course, but there were also some sub-Reddits where people were like, “but keep Austin” and got high ranks. Houston’s getting to a stage where it’s getting less scorn finally.

  2. I think Houston has actually come to resemble Austin in this one respect, the “revival” of so many neighborhoods all over the city. When I left Houston it seemed much more stratified, geographically, in that there were a few “right” places to live and a lot more wrong ones, often connected with the schools. I noticed at once that Austin was different. I’d say that Austin’s particular achievement is that its taxpayers generally still expect to send their kids to public school. But that may change.

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