my hometown.

I found the most delightful blog post earlier this week (last Sunday it was), by Susie over at useless beauty (which, by the way, is one of my most favorite laugh-out-loud blogs. I wish she blogged daily! three times a day! more, Susie, more!). She describes her hometown for us: the mundane details, that is, not the touristy ones. I love the concept, and since she’s a loooong way away from me, I found it fascinating because hers is a different world from mine. Here’s hoping you will also enjoy reading about my home. Thanks Susie for the inspiration.

Houston is a big city: the fourth largest in the US (after New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, in that order), at some 2-3 million people in “Houston proper” and an estimated 4-6 million in the “greater Houston area.” We make an excellent picture of urban sprawl; we are “car culture” incarnate. (I think this is true of the US in general, and Texas even more so, and Houston more so still). The climate and the sprawl, and the resulting car culture, conspire against bicycle riding as a way of life. And yet, we have a surprisingly large and vibrant cycling scene (in Houston, and in Texas). Maybe this is due to our large and diverse population; maybe if you put this many people in one place you’re bound to come up with some avid cyclists? Maybe Texans are accustomed to going against the grain? I don’t know, but I’m glad.

We also have a lot of non-native Texans here. Houston is a major port city, and a center of oil & gas and energy industries, and a center for health care, too. We are very international; this big city incorporates little pockets of not only Mexican and Latino populations, but also Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Nigerian, and more. We are a big, international city. I love that about my hometown. Our diverse population definitely does have a tendency to congregate itself into patches of black, white, and Hispanic neighborhoods. I don’t know, maybe that’s true everywhere.

But I’m getting off track. This is about what neighborhoods look like, right?

Well, so again, as a city not terribly conducive to walking or riding bicycles. There are not necessarily sidewalks in every neighborhood, and when there are sidewalks, they’re liable to be broken, have cars parked on them or trees growing them or be littered with… litter. Susie mentions cats in her neighborhood. Well, in mine, it’s dogs – lots of strays, unfortunately, including some who will chase you on your bicycle and too many who get hit by cars. 😦 But also lots of pet dogs. We don’t see cats much – probably something to do with all the free-range canines.

The city itself is, understandably, diverse; there are “nice” neighborhoods with nice sidewalks, nice pothole-less streets, large homes, and big trees (like River Oaks, which wikipedia claims is “one of the wealthiest zip codes” in the country). There are neighborhoods that absolutely feel like Mexico: street vendors, car mechanics setting up impromptu shops streetside, Tejano music blasting, the whole nine. We are diverse economically, too.

The Husband and I have recently purchased a home in a neighborhood in north inner-city Houston, meaning we’re just inside “the loop”, about 10 minutes by car from downtown. We are in a little pocket: surrounded by neighborhoods that are predominately Mexican and less affluent, our small niche has wide streets, old homes set well back from the street on large yards, and huge old trees. Many of our neighbors are original homeowners, or the family of the original homeowners. It’s a very quiet neighborhood. Having lived for years in artsy, hard-partying Montrose or the hipster, young-professional Heights, our current street feels very calm and quiet by comparison. It feels safer. (It was nice being just blocks from numerous stores and restaurants and bars in the Montrose, but I’m willing to trade a few minutes’ drive for some peace and quiet. Down there, the party’s in your backyard! and on the other hand, the party is in your backyard.)

Montrose and the Heights, along with Garden Oaks/Oak Forest and a number of other inner-loop neighborhoods, are very desirable to live in. Houston as a whole is having a little bit of a return to the city center, as gas prices have gone up and folks are less pleased with their 3-hour round-trip commute in from the suburbs. Thus, we see more and more townhouse complexes, next door to storage warehouses, so that folks can move in from their large (much more affordable) homes in the suburbs and put all their large-home possessions in storage while they live in a smaller home in the city (since that’s what they can afford, by comparison). Certain neighborhoods have done better than others at keeping their original “feel”: the Heights has worked hard (and is still working hard) to limit development to buildings that retain the historic-Heights look, while the Montrose is gradually becoming overcome by cardboard-and-aluminum monstrosities. Some creative and artistic construction, yes, but for every imaginative new home design there are ten Hardie-plank homes, built for the short-term. I’m happy to live in a neighborhood that is largely retaining its look and its feel. Here is our house:

(okay, not an ideal picture, it’s all I have at the moment.)

I don’t know that I’ve done as good a job as Susie did in describing her world, but I love where I live and it’s been fun writing about it. Houston’s not perfect; the summers are miserably hot and humid, it’s not the greatest place to be a bicycle enthusiast, and there are aspects of our culture I would take issue with. But it’s so unique: urban, international, and big-city-feeling, but also Southern and calm in a way that you can’t replicate in New York or LA. I like it here.

EDIT! I should have shared this picture of the beautiful deck that Husband built us recently! Yay Husband!

6 Responses

  1. I love this! I’m so glad you liked my post :-). It’s fascinating to read about other people’s cities and places they live. Your house is beautiful.

  2. I’m in Houston, too, but in the suburbs far west. I enjoyed your description of our international city; very well done. I love Houston, too. Even the horrible heat. I could never live in the snowy north. Now, Canada in the summer might be nice….

  3. Hi Jane! I love it here. I’m used to the heat, being a native and all, and I agree – I can’t imagine living somewhere cold. The Husband has been offered a job in Chicago but we can’t hack it! (I know it’s a lovely city. But we’d like to just visit in the summer.) Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Houston is a great city….my gram retired there many years ago and my dad is now with her, although they moved up to Tomball…I love the loop, thought it was the neatest thing when I visited many years ago..

  5. […] top her very poetic tribute, but I will give a different perspective on my home environment than I did a few months […]

  6. […] I am a Southerner (to the extent that a Houstonian is a Southerner… that’s a different post). In my mind, this book is a little bit crossed with The Glass Menagerie. I don’t know why. I […]

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