A couple of months ago, there was a poster on one of my ParentSoup boards who was in a dither because her husband had accepted a job in Houston. In her words, she had no desire to move to "the middle of nowhere" and was quite vocal about it.
It surprised me a bit that the fourth largest city in the country could be considered the middle of nowhere. What didn't surprise me were the other negative impressions about Houston. Based on the various comments offered on the board, I've come to realize that if you threw out the word Houston in a word association test, the most common response would be flying cockroaches, closely followed by humidity, hick, and Hell.
Having grown up and lived in and around Houston all my life, I can't help but wonder how this bad image got started. I suspect it was snide remarks by Dallas, who desperately wants to be everything Houston actually is. Most of the people who badmouth Houston have simply not spent enough time here. Because I will admit that Houston takes a while to get used to. During the Superbowl, it was amusing to see how the city won over the reporters in town for the game. Their early articles were derisive, poking fun at everything. By the end of the week, they were yelling, "I love this place!" and vowing to return.
Part of the problem, I think, is that Houston doesn't look all that great from the outside. It's flat, it's sprawling, there's absolutely no zoning, it's hot. But once you live here, you find out that the very things that make it seem unappealing are really assets in disguise. Yes, it's flat, but that just means you can see the sky. The flatness also comes in handy with regards to the weather - it really helps to see what's approaching. It's sprawling, but that's just because there's too much to put in one place - how else you you get coastal plains and the Big Thicket in one city? As for the no zoning, that just means everything is more convenient. Yup, it's hot for three months out of the year, but it's mild the other nine. Wearing shorts at Thanksgiving is a good thing.
But mostly, Houston has a good heart. What other city would spend millions of dollars on a rail system and then trust everyone to buy tickets on the honor system? What other city could build a world-class arts venue with private donations in the middle of an economic bust? What other city could have produced both the Menil and the Beer Can House?
Ironically, right around the time the woman on ParentSoup was bemoaning having to move to the middle of nowhere, a tongue in cheek grass-roots marketing campaign was launched as a way to let Houstonians tell in their own words why they like it here. Titled "Houston. It's Worth It.", the campaign embraces every bad image the city has and then concludes it's still the best place to be. HIWI has set up a website for Houstonians to post their own reasons for loving the city. The responses range from the flip to the fervent, and are in turns funny, insightful, and poignant.
Check it out. Because Houston is definitely worth it.