by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

Regarding your reader who complains about Houston's sprawl and equates Houston and Portland: a Portland to Houston comparison is weak at best, considering that Portland has barely a quarter of the population of Houston.

His example of driving 50 miles and still being in the city seems to me, a native Texan who has lived in Houston for most of my adult life, the exception: he and his parents must have lived in two of the few parts of the city where this is actually possible. I live in the heart of Houston and drive 60 miles to see my parents, who live in a small town in a completely different county, and my partner drives 20 miles for work and ends up in a completely separate city, also in a different county. It is more accurate to compare Houston to the other top 5 cities: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Phoenix. I have visited New York and Chicago, and it can take quite a while to travel between points within them.

Just because a city has grown out instead of up doesn't make it less of a city. While I'm generally against urban sprawl for environmental reasons, it does have it's advantages. As I mentioned, I live in the central part of the city. When I go out -- to one of two train stations, half a dozen museums, the park, a bar, or a handful of restaurants within walking distance -- I stroll along tree-lined streets. And my commute to work doesn't involve a single freeway. I can sit in the living room of my second-floor apartment and see the trees and the sky -- without having to strain my neck at odd angles. And this isn't because I'm wealthy and can afford to live in an upscale neighborhood; my partner and I both work in education and have the salaries to prove it. That's another great thing about Houston: it is incredibly affordable.

While I think Houston is a great city, I'm not usually one of it's big cheerleaders. But the publicity surrounding Parker's election -- much of it incredibly stereotypical -- has made me defensive. Houston is one of Texas' best kept secrets. I could go on and on about it's positives -- the thriving theater scene, the eclectic arts community, the world-class medical center, the business opportunities, the diversity of people and cuisines, the great people. But perhaps the best part about Houston is that we don't take ourselves too seriously.

Another writes:

I'm very proud of myself for having seen all those sites at my last visit!  One more not to be missed: the Art Car Museum.

Another:

The tunnels underneath downtown are a marvel. Most people don't know the exist but there is a vibrant culture below the streets of downtown Houston. Since this city is so blasted hot during the summer our forefathers decided to connect most of the buildings by an extensive tunnel system. You can get everything from a haircut to a 5 course meal. However you have to do it Monday thru Friday 8 to 6pm. as the tunnels are only open during the regular white collar work week.

A boat tour of the ship channel is another interesting thing most people have not done. Not only will you see why we are the 4th largest city (it's the refineries stupid) but the natural beauty along some of the route is in direct contradiction to the refineries and shipping lanes. We have the second busiest port in the country.

What is most interesting about our city is our diversity. You can hear every language in the world here. You can also find every type of food as we eat out more often than any other city except New York. Do you have a Bosnian restaurant in your town?

Houston is not a tourist city. Nor is it very pretty overall. But if you have a dream or are just a hard worker, this is the place to be. Come on down, make a good living, and then retire somewhere else.

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