Houston — Diverse, Energetic, Affordable
Want to learn about this great and diverse city? Well get comfortable, because the City of Houston has agreed to answer questions from potential residents about what it's like to live in and around this unique place. This interview will share facts on a variety of topics such as housing, education and attractions — and also serves as a helpful overview to the information contained in the rest of Here Is Houston.
The City of Houston grants an interview with an undecided potential Houstonian. Here's what the city has to say:
Q: I'm considering moving to Houston and have heard a great deal about it, but what is your opinion?
Houston: I'm the fourth most-populous city in the United States. More than 2 million people live within my city limits and more than 5 million live in my metropolitan area. That many people can't be wrong, can they?
Q: What is that one special quality that Houston offers its residents?
Houston: There's not just one quality that makes Houston special. Just look at the people, the food, the culture, the sports...
Q: Well, then, lets start with food. I love to eat, do you have any great tips about Houston dining?
Houston: This is a food lover's paradise. I have more than 6,800 restaurants with such a variety, you wouldn't believe, starting with the obvious - steaks, seafood, Tex-Mex and Mexican. That's just the tip of the iceberg. You can satisfy your craving for just about any cuisine - Argentinean, Belgian, Cajun, Caribbean, Chilean, Chinese, Colombian, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, German, Greek, Hunan, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Persian, Pakistani, Polish, Russian, Salvadoran, Szechwan or Turkish. It's not surprising, considering the diversity of my population.
Q: You mentioned so many different ethnic groups, what is it about Houston that attracts so many different cultures?
Houston: My year-round moderate climate for one. The average yearly temperature is 69°F, with sunny or partly sunny days about 56 percent of the year. Summer high temperatures average in the mid-90s and springs and falls can be quite beautiful. In the winter, it's rare to see snow - only 14 measurable snowfalls since 1939 - and on average only 18 days a year bring temperatures of 32°F or less.
The cost of living is another factor. According to the ACCRA Cost-of-Living Index for the first quarter of 2005, among the 24 largest metropolitan areas participating, the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown metropolitan area has the lowest overall cost of living (12.1 percent below the nationwide average, 23.3 percent below the average for large metro areas) and the lowest housing index (24.9 percent below the nationwide average, 44.2 percent below the average for large metro areas).
Q: Speaking of housing, I read somewhere that Houston does not regulate zoning. What does this mean?
Houston: Actually, I am one of the few large cities without zoning, but where else could you find trendy lofts next to a post office? Houstonians rely heavily on neighborhood deed restrictions and master-planned communities. The Woodlands, located 27 miles north of downtown, is one of the largest master-planned communities in the country. Other neighborhoods limit commercial and multifamily development through strict deed restrictions. A prime example is River Oaks, considered the "Beverly Hills" of the area due to its many celebrities, political figures and multimillion-dollar mansions. Houston also has success letting the natural mechanisms of the real estate and commercial markets set the tone for many neighborhoods.
You'll find that each neighborhood has its own particular personality - from the charming older neighborhoods such as The Heights, with its large concentration of historic Victorian homes, to the more eclectic Montrose, a trendy community known for its vintage shops, eateries and street art, and from stark lofts in the warehouse district near downtown to communities built around golf courses and playgrounds in the suburbs.
I've recently seen an influx of growth "Inside the Loop," referring to Loop 610 that circles the core of the city, as people trade plush lawns and commutes for townhouses, lofts and condominiums closer to where they work and socialize. That's not surprising: as part of the Main Street Revitalization Project, planners intend to make the Main Street Corridor the foremost gathering place for residents and visitors through a combination of cultural, education, medical, shopping and residential activities. The Corridor is composed of seven unique districts - Downtown, Hermann Park, Midtown, Museum, Near North, Reliant Energy Park and the Texas Medical Center.
Q: You mentioned commutes. What is the most popular method of transportation?
Houston: Cars are the favorite means of transportation. And city planners constantly strive to improve the freeways and mobility. The major freeways offer high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for vans and carpools, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) provides public transportation with buses, trolleys and lift vans, including convenient Park-&-Ride schedules for commuters headed downtown. In January 2004, my first light rail line opened. Running primarily along Main Street from downtown to the Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park, the rail offers one more option for travel to and from the downtown area.
For greater distances, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, the hub for Continental Airlines, handles domestic flights as well as all international traffic, and William P. Hobby Airport provides many flights daily to many cities in the state as well as the rest of the country. Being centrally located - about 3.5 hours flying time to both New York and Los Angeles - my airports offer numerous nonstop flights to cities around the world.
Q: You're starting to convince me to take the plunge, so let's say I make the move. Now what do I do?
Houston: Opportunities abound. Of the more than 110,000 business establishments here, only 3,600 or so are involved with the energy industry. Energy - from exploration to chemicals manufacturing - accounts for less than half of the economic base employment here. Others are in such fields as business services, technology, medicine, manufacturing unrelated to energy, and aerospace. In fact, the aerospace industry has given me one of my many nicknames - Space City - since this is home to NASA's Johnson Space Center, the base for mission control.
Not only do 21 Fortune 500 companies call me home, but I've recently been ranked second in the nation for metro areas favored for expansions and relocations according to Plants Sites and Parks magazine. In addition, more than half of the world's 100 largest foreign-based corporations have operations here. But it's not all about work. I am a fun city.
Q: What is the favorite pastime?
Houston: Some might say shopping. The Galleria, with nearly 16 million visitors each year, leads the way as the number one shopping and tourist destination. At least 23 malls have more than 500,000 square feet of retail space, and shopping districts for the upscale, trendy or budget-conscious shopper are plentiful. Be it antiques or discount luggage, it can be found somewhere nearby.
Q: I enjoy shopping, but what does Houston have to offer in the arena of sports?
Houston: I'm a sports spectator's dream. You name it; I've got it - a professional sports team for almost every major sport. Pardon me, because I am going to brag. I am home to: the Houston Astros, 2004 Major League Baseball's division champions; the Houston Rockets, two-time National Basketball Association champions; the Houston Comets, four-time Women's National Basketball Association champions; the Houston Aeros, the 2003 American Hockey League champions; the Houston Texans, the National Football League's newest franchise; and the Houston Energy, three-time Women's Professional Football League champions. You should have seen me in February 2004 during Super Bowl XXXVIII, when I pulled out all the stops for about 72,000 football fans. I did it again in July 2004 when I hosted the Major League Baseball's 2004 All Star Game. I also am excited to be the NBA's choice for the 2006 NBA All Star Game.
Local universities also participate in intercollegiate sports such as track and field, football, baseball and basketball. The Rice Owls won the baseball College World Series in 2003, and the University of Houston Cougars football team in 2003 played in the Aloha Bowl. Additionally, I'm looking forward to hosting the 2011 NCAA Final Four at Reliant Stadium. I last hosted this men's basketball tournament in 1971 in the Astrodome.
Q: I enjoy watching sports, but my true passion is in participating. What can I do to participate rather than sit in the bleachers?
Houston: With 314 municipal parks and more than 200 open space areas, miles of hike-and-bike trails, numerous community recreation centers with facilities for swimming, baseball, soccer, football, tennis and basketball, and schedules for adult and child participation, there's plenty to do. I also have seven municipal 18-hole golf courses, but the avid golfer need not fear - there are more than 150 private and public golf courses in the area.
For boating and fishing, to the southeast you'll find Galveston Bay and Clear Lake, considered the "Boating Capital of Texas." To the north, you'll find Lake Conroe, Lake Houston and Lake Livingston. Of course, for sun and surf there are the beaches of Galveston Island, about 50 miles southeast of downtown.
Q: Many people are not sports fans, but still want to have fun. What else can I do to have a little fun?
Houston: I'm one of only a handful of American cities with permanent ballet, orchestra, opera and theater companies. My 17-block Theater District located downtown is home to eight performing arts organizations - Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, Da Camera, Society for the Performing Arts, Broadway in Houston, Alley Theatre and Theatre Under the Stars. Combined, its facilities offer nearly 13,000 seats. Outside of the downtown area, you'll find a number of other performance companies and venues, including two outdoor theaters - The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, an amphitheater that has showcased performers such as Frank Sinatra, Lyle Lovett, Bette Midler and Norah Jones, and the Miller Outdoor Theatre, which schedules free productions from March through October.
I also have a number of attractions for both adults and children - Space Center Houston, the Houston Zoo, Six Flags AstroWorld/WaterWorld and Moody Gardens, to name only a few. For adults who like to wager, I have horse and greyhound racing tracks. Several festivals, such as the Houston International Festival that highlights a different country annually, are held throughout the year. And, I am the site of several exhibitions such as the nation's largest quilting show. The things to see and do are almost endless.
Q: Wait, you haven't mentioned art museums. Isn't Houston known for its fine arts museum?
Houston: Yes it is, and also for my Museum District, which is located about 15 minutes from downtown and is the fourth largest in the United States, according to the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, with 15 world-class museums. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), to which you referred, houses more than 45,000 works from the antiquities to the present and ranks as the largest collection in the Southwest. With the Glassell School of Art, the MFAH presents more than 300 changing exhibits each year.
Other museums in the district include the Houston Museum of Natural Science (with a butterfly center and planetarium), the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and the Children's Museum of Houston. In the Montrose area, you'll find The Menil Collection, considered one of the most important privately assembled collections of the 20th century. Other museums, such as the unique Art Car Museum and The Orange Show Foundation, an eclectic folk art collection honoring the orange, are scattered elsewhere in the area. Of course, there are numerous art galleries too.
Q: Yes, but I would think Houston's art might reflect its western heritage. Isn't Houston part of the wild west?
Houston: I am much more culturally diverse than any one label or idea. My art galleries range from the traditional to the contemporary and include all art media. I do honor my heritage, though. Once a year you'll see some real wranglers at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest livestock show and richest rodeo in the world. The rodeo attracts about 1.9 million visitors, supplies tremendous number of scholarships to students and attracts popular entertainers ranging in style from George Strait to Beyonce to La Mafia.
Q: Wow, the world's largest rodeo! I know they say everything's bigger in Texas, but where do you put it?
Houston: The rodeo used to be held in the historic Astrodome, hailed as the eighth wonder of the world when it was unveiled in 1965 as the first domed stadium ever constructed. Now, the rodeo is held in the recently built, state-of-the-art Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans, and the only NFL stadium with a retractable roof. In the past five years, two other sports arenas have been built — Minute Maid Park, another state-of-the-art stadium with a retractable roof, built for the Houston Astros, and the Toyota Center, opened for the 2003 NBA season, and home for professional hockey and men's and women's basketball.
Q: Speaking of contact sports, I'm sure these athletes need good doctors. Do you have quality heath care options here?
Houston: I do indeed. My metropolitan area has 100 hospitals, with the largest concentration of medical institutions anywhere in the world located in the Texas Medical Center, mere minutes from downtown. With more than 42 not-for-profit member medical care institutions, including 13 hospitals, and several medical schools within its borders, the medical center provides world-class medical care to more than 5 million patients each year and provides a teaching and training ground for doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and virtually all other health-related professionals.
Q: To supply those medical schools with top talent, you must have a good educational system in place. What does Houston have to offer college students?
Houston: You're looking at the academic center of the Southwest. My region has more than 60 colleges, universities and other degree-granting institutions with a wealth of options for undergraduate, graduate and specialized degrees, as well as continuing education, workforce training, licenses and certificates in subjects ranging from acupuncture to veterinary medicine. Although too numerous to detail, I'll highlight just a few of the choices. Rice University, the oldest university in the city, is considered the 'Harvard of the South' and is known for its science and engineering curricula. The University of Houston System, with four universities and two multinational teaching centers, offers nearly 300 graduate, undergraduate and professional degrees at its Central Campus alone, while the Houston Community College System has branches conveniently located in the four quadrants of the city and enrolls more than 37,000 students each semester. My variety of colleges also includes Texas Southern University, Houston Baptist University, the University of St. Thomas and the North Harris Montgomery Community College District. You mentioned medical schools: I also produce some of the finest health care professionals in the world through a wealth of academic health science institutions, including Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Q: I can see why you call it the academic center of the Southwest, but my children aren't in college yet. Could you please share with me information on Houston's other educational opportunities?
Houston: There are 66 public school districts in my 10-county area, the largest being Houston Independent School District (HISD) - the seventh-largest public school district in the nation. The districts offer programs for bilingual and gifted students as well as for those with special needs, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Several magnet schools in the various districts offer curricula for students of all ages with special interests or talents such as fine arts, math or science. In addition, there are more than 195 private and parochial schools in the area.
Q: Houston is more diverse than I initially thought. Moderate weather, a variety of employment and educational opportunities, plenty of leisure and cultural activities, low living costs, great food options - it does look like a great place to call home. Is there anything we haven't covered yet?
Houston: The people. You'll find the people friendly and welcoming.
Whether they're cheering their high school heroes in Friday-night football, dressing in black tie for the ballet or simply chatting around the smoky glow of an open barbeque pit, Houstonians have a personality you'll find in few other cities.
Also, the Greater Houston Partnership is the primary advocate of Houston's business community and is dedicated to building economic prosperity in the region. The Partnership accomplishes that charge through its work in economic development, world trade, development of Houston's business infrastructure and business issue resolution. The Partnership works to create jobs in the Houston region and assists companies with expansion, relocation and site selection consultation. In addition, the organization sponsors the Direct Business Assistance program and offers networking programs and seminars for businesses in the region.
The Partnership offers a wealth of information, resources and volunteer opportunities for newcomers and entrepreneurs.
To learn more about what a great city I am, call the Partnership at 713-844-3600 or visit the Web site at www.houston.org.