Houston is a city that looms large in the minds of other Americans. As the nation’s 4th largest city, and one of the fastest growing of the last century, there is good reason for that. And after all, which of us hasn’t heard the iconic phrase, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” (Not to mention, “Houston, we have a problem.”) Like all great American cities, a lot of stereotype have sprung up around Houston, some earned, some not so much. But which of these falls into which category?
Houston is an Oil Town. This one rings pretty true. In fact, Houston is the US’s number one exporter city, and 2/3’s of that comes from it’s energy economy. In fact, here’s a short list of Fortune 500 companies that call Houston home: ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, Plains All American Pipeline, National Oilwell Varco, Frontier Oil… Have you spotted the trend yet? Texas produced the US’s greatest oil boom in the 20th century, and Houston was ground zero for that explosion. The city still reflects that, and will for a long time.
Houston is a sprawl. This one is also on the mark. During it’s heyday, Houston built up, certainly. But the city most definitely built out. Cheap land, cheap cars, cheap gas prices, and a booming economy meant that there was a huge rush to put up homes and plant a stake. Commuters gave little regard to having to spend a few extra miles on the road every night if it meant having your own home to return to. The city now covers 599.6 square miles, and is still growing. To put this in perspective, New York City, with a population of more than 4 times that of Houston, covers 302.64 square miles.
Houston is full of Cowboys. Chalk this stereotype up to outdated ideas. Western wear is common in Houston, just like most cities and towns you’ll visit in Texas. But this is more a hat tip (five gallon, of course) to it’s cattle days than to any actual modern influences. Calling Houston a cattle town these days makes about as much since as calling Boston a whaling port.
If you want a salad, there’s hay in the horse trough. Yes, you can find a huge slab of meat to challenge yourself with, if you dare. Houston does pride itself on its formidable number of famous steak houses, and that fame is well deserved. But the truth these days is that Houston has as diverse a culinary culture as any city you’ll find. Flavors from the across the world mingle with the classic t-bone and baked potato, and the adventurous foodie can find even the most obscure delight to instagram to their friends online.
So keep an open mind when you come to Houston. The city has something to offer everyone, even as it holds fast to some older tried and true habits and traditions.