In researching the cover story in the issue of WORLD that went online this morning, I lived in Houston for a month, drove the city and suburbs with seven thoughtful Houstonians, and asked dozens more for their opinions. Here, in five groupings, are responses from nine residents who thought about their experiences and had stories to tell:
First, many Houstonians relish their city’s ethnic complexity. Linda Rapp said, “I live in a huge international city. When my children attended the local public high school up the street, there were 44 native languages represented. A new neighbor moved in and told me, ‘We are an unusual couple. I am from Paris and my wife is from Mexico City.’ I told him they sounded pretty typical of Houston.”
Second, many commented on both opportunity and sprawl. Kim Pyle: “We moved from Kansas to Houston in 2010 at age 26 to expand my husband’s career opportunities. To me, Houston means vibrant economy, commuter culture, and suburban sprawl.” John Cogan: “One word describes the Houston metro area—sprawling. It takes forever to get anywhere on the always-crowded freeways. Many neighborhoods are nice; some are not.” But Diane Baker: “I’ve lived in the Houston area since 1985. … Houston is vibrant, independent, diverse, affordable, and friendly to families and to business. It has world class museum and theater districts along with excellent cuisines from around the world. The medical center is top-notch. We love living in Houston!”
Third, parts of Houston have a crime problem, and I agreed to quote without using last names two people with concerns about being victimized. Jeff: “Houston is getting to be a violent city, which really shocks me. On the bright side, there are jobs. I hope and pray for this city to improve … but at the current rate it’s going, it’ll end up being another ‘Hollyweird.’” Lynda: “Our street had families from nine different countries. I loved that! Then drugs and crime moved in. The neighborhood cratered and has only slightly improved in the last 30 years.” Yet, even those who saw life getting worse saw the potential for improvement.
Houston also has killings that should be criminal but aren’t, as John Moloney emphasized: “I lived in Houston for about 13 years, between 1986 and 2000. I loved Houston for about six of those years until I made a terrible mistake one day in 1992 when a call went out over Christian radio for the local church to assemble and pray on a public sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood. My intention was to attend and quickly return to run my small plastic housewares business.”
Moloney continued: “I met a young lady, a nurse, who told me that she made the rounds late at night to collect garbage sacks of little broken bodies from the local abortion clinic dumpsters. I did not know whether to believe her or not, so I asked if she had anyone helping her. She did not, so I told her to come by my house on her next 3 a.m. collection night. Within a night or two, she took me up on my offer and we both went and retrieved numerous garbage sacks from a number of local clinics. We then went to her home … she opened the sacks we had just retrieved and began to assemble numerous miniature human beings from the wreckage inflicted just hours earlier.”
He concluded, “Horrified is not an adequate description. … After assembling their little bodies, she would baptize and name each child, naming them after someone she knew who cared for the unborn. Then, about once a month, she arranged for a funeral and burial at a cemetery in south Houston. I went home to my bed and cried myself tearless, and so would any one of you if you had walked in my shoes that evening. That night changed my life forever.”
Fourth, many Houstonians who replied to my website and Facebook request for comments compared their situation to that of others north, east, and west. Kim Hidalgo: “I have lived in Houston my entire life, almost 45 years: It is all I know. … While we do have the brutal Texas heat and the humidity, I believe I would much rather see God’s beautiful sunshine regularly than grey skies for many months. … There are plenty of swimming pools, water parks, and other ways to stave off the heat and humidity. While other cities may deal with shoveling snow annually, we only have hurricanes occasionally. I have memories as a child sitting on ice chests during prolonged periods without electricity, no air, and boards over windows. It is something our kids have now experienced: Do we need to board for this one, evacuate for this one, have our batteries ready, our bathtubs filled with water? …”
Hidalgo emphasized “the diversity, the amount of jobs, the relatively inexpensive standard of living (as compared to the northeast, California, and other places), and … culturally speaking, there are tremendous opportunities here: a fabulous symphony, the Houston Ballet, numerous museums, theater companies, festivals, a slew of libraries. If you want to have some cultural experience and yet your pocketbook doesn’t afford it, there are ways to still partake, even as we have”—and she noted free performances by the Houston Symphony, the Houston Ballet, and others. She noted the free Thursday admissions at many museums. Her bottom line: “Yes, it is a given that the summers are hot, the city is congested, the people are numerous, the traffic horrible, the commutes are long, but perhaps that is because so many have decided Houston is a great place to live, and so they just keep on coming, but for me, it is all I have known—and I love it!
Fifth, Houstonians with personal or parental experience in other countries often saw downsides but valued liberty. I’ll give the last words to Desiree Van Essen, whose father is from Iran. She and her family moved to Houston eight years ago, and needed a little adjusting: “Once we arrived here, instead of seeing the beautiful scenery of East Tennessee, we noticed lots of tall freeways and stores everywhere. Endless miles of commerce and restaurants along the freeway. You wonder where the houses are. Granted strip malls aren’t easy on the eyes. But once you’re here a while, you come to realize these businesses exist because people are making money and spending money.”
She wrote, “In Tennessee we didn’t see a lot of people from Mexico or South America. … In Texas there are many beautiful people with black hair, tanned skin, and a Spanish accent. They are very comfortable with their Latino heritage and being Texan. They’re not ‘outsiders’ … Yes, Houston is hot and not very scenic. Dotted along the landscape are chemical plants and oil rigs! If you have to ‘drive across town’ you’ll be in the car a while. … I think we could use more parks or green space and perhaps lower property taxes, but that’s where my complaints end. Business is booming, housing affordability is amazing, personal freedom is encouraged. … The people of the world are here, and it’s a beautiful thing. We have the diversity of Toronto with the warm hospitality of the South.”