houston, texas, my erstwhile hometown -- 6/18/18

Today's selection -- from God Save Texas Lawrence Wright. Houston, Texas, sits in Harris County, which has a larger population than twenty-five states. It will soon pass Chicago to become the country's third largest city:

"Houston is the only major city in America without zoning laws. You can build pretty much anything you want anywhere you want, except in designated historical districts. You'll see some odd sights, such as a two-story family home adjacent to a roller coaster, or an erotic nightclub next to a shopping gallery, or a house made of beer cans. Solo skyscrapers suddenly pop up in residential neighborhoods. The absence of zoning is an arti­fact of the anticommunist hysteria of the 1950s and 1960s, when zoning was viewed as a communist plot. But there was another group, of blacks and liberals, who saw an advantage in siding with the ultraright. 'Zoning would have been used to keep peo­ple out,' Bill White, a former mayor, observed.

Houston, c.1873

"According to City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Houston now has the highest stan­dard of living of any large city in America, and among the highest in the world: 'Personal household income has risen 20 percent since 2005 in Houston, compared with 14 percent in New York, 11 percent in Los Angeles, and less than 9 percent in Chicago.' Parks are being renovated and expanded, and housing is afford­able -- 60 percent below the average in Los Angeles, for instance.
"Houston grew by 35 percent between 2000 and 2013, an astounding figure for an already mature city. It will soon bypass Chicago to become the country's third-largest metropolitan area, behind New York and Los Angeles. 'All the growth has been Latino, African American, and Asian,' the Kinder Insti­tute's Stephen Klineberg said. 'Houston is now the single most ethnically diverse metro area in the country.' One out of four Houstonians is foreign born, and no single racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority. 'We speak one hundred forty-two differ­ent languages,' Sylvester Turner, Houston's second black mayor, told me. 'We're seeking to be even more inclusive.'

"For many years Texas led the nation in the number of refugees it admits. In 2016, Texas took in 8,300 of the 85,000 refugees that came to America, a close second to California. (Under President Trump, the number of refugees permitted into the country has been capped at 45,000.) Houston accepts more refugees than any city in the country. At last count (2010), Texas has the largest number of Muslim adherents in the United States. However, the governor decided in September 2016 to withdraw from the fed­eral resettlement program.

"Like other cities in Texas, Houston has become more pro­gressive over the years; for instance, 81 percent of Houston's citi­zens favor background checks for all gun owners, and a majority approves a path to legal citizenship for undocumented immi­grants. The proportion of Houstonians identifying themselves as Democrats was 52 percent in Klineberg's latest survey, while the number saying they are Republicans declined to 30 percent­ the largest gap in the history of his polling. Those numbers are
not at all reflected in the political leadership of the state, which is far more right wing than the general population.

"Nearly 40 percent of Houston's population is under twenty­-four -- it's an incredibly youthful town -- so education is a press­ing issue. More than half of that youthful cohort are Latino, and nearly 20 percent are African American; they are the future of Houston and also the most likely to be undereducated. Texas is near the bottom on education spending and academic achieve­ment. These failures will have national consequences, since one out of ten children in the United States is a Texan -- more than seven million of them. One in four Texas children lives in poverty."

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Lawrence Wright


God Save Texas


Alfred A. Knopf


Copyright 2018 by Lawrence Wright


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