The Ugly List
Editor's Note: Clifford Pugh, our CultureMap Houston editor-in-chief wrote this opinion piece about his adopted hometown. Is our sister city really as ugly as everyone says? Clifford doesn't think so and neither do we.
Keep Houston Ugly. That should be our motto.
A few years ago, the slogan popped up on bumper stickers and T-shirts all over the Bayou City. And why not? If Austin can make a virtue out of being weird, certainly Houston can have fun with being considered unattractive.
A lot of locals are in a huff because a little-known publication called U City Guides has just ranked Houston as the ugliest city in the nation (ahead of Detroit and Los Angeles) and the seventh ugliest city in the world (behind Guatemala City; Mexico City; Amman, Jordan; Caracas; Luanda, Angola; and Chisinău, Moldova, which is really surprising because I didn't realize Moldova was a real nation — I always thought it was a made-up country in an episode of Dynasty.)
The editors wrote:
This is the United States' fourth largest city when it comes to population, but the attraction sure isn't scenery. There are many other ugly American cities (let's face it — American metropolises aren't exactly beauties: Atlanta, Cleveland...), but this one should win the title of ugliest of them all, with a large impoverished and homeless population (close to one in five families live below the poverty line) and a cityscape with no formal zoning regulations."
When I moved to Houston a little over 30 years ago, I, too, thought it was big and sprawling and ugly — and couldn't wait to leave. But one year here grew to five and then 10 — and suddenly I didn't care about moving anywhere else.
I could afford a house in a good location here, which I couldn't in New York, Chicago or LA (although that is rapidly changing). There's never a lack of anything to do — my theory is that people stick close to Houston on the weekends because there aren't many exotic places to escape to, so friendships are developed quickly. The arts scene flourishes, the weather is actually pretty nice (as I like to say, "You never have to shovel sweat"), the restaurant scene is thriving and retailers from around the world are rushing to open stores here.
And the number of interesting people doing interesting things never ceases to amaze me. It's a melting pot where people still come to dream the American dream.
Actually, I think Houston is kinda pretty. It's green all year long, the skyline is thrilling, certain neighborhoods have a real cohesiveness and the people have character — and are real characters. My experience has been people hate Houston and think it's really ugly — until they come and visit.
Sure, there are big city problems — I'm more concerned with the rising cost of property, bad roads, traffic and income inequity than an outsider's perception of Houston based on stereotypes — but who wants to be Minneapolis?
I'd rather be ugly than bland.