<P>A note from the author of the first stub: I love Houston. I have been an unabashed booster of the city since I came here as a teenager to go to college and never left. That said, I don't shrink from pointing out that the city is far from perfect. It is, at first glance, flat, ugly, and polluted. At second glance, too, it looks only a little better. But despite the time I'll take to explain why the city grew up in a less than friendly configuration, please keep in mind that once you understand the overall "lay of the land," you will have no trouble finding wonderful people and places to visit in Houston. Just don't let a bad first impression fool you.
<P>A conceptual overview of Houston should guide your travels here. The city is huge, both in population and, especially, in land area. "Urban sprawl" is a term tailor-made for this city. To understand this, a bit of background is in order.
<P>Houston is the largest city in the United States without any appreciable zoning. While there is some small measure of zoning in the form of ordinances that require adult businesses to stay minimum distances away from schools and churches, real estate development in Houston is only constrained by the will and the pocketbook of real estate developers. Traditionally, Houston politics and law are strongly influenced by real estate developers; at times, the majority of city council seats have been held by developers. Development of the city, then, has reflected what makes life easy on developers instead of visitors or residents.
<P>What this means to visitors is that Houston covers a larger land area with less population than might otherwise be expected. Everything is spread out. No matter where you are, almost nothing will be within walking distance. The entire city is built on the assumption that nearly everyone owns and drives a car virtually everywhere they go.
<P>The city has a number of districts. Historically, these districts were called "wards" and they tended to have distinct populations. Redevelopment has rendered most of those distinctions meaningless, but the modern version of Houston still has districts. Here's a brief rundown:
<P>Houston has three downtowns. Remember that real estate development in Houston is little controlled. That explains why, decades ago, when land in the traditional downtown (center of the city, still the home of high finance and big business and enjoying a huge building and clean-up boom in anticipation of the 2004 Super Bowl) became too costly, real estate developers simply traveled a few miles away, scraped the prairie of vegetation, and started building additional "downtowns." The second downtown is south of the city center, an area now known, generically, as "The Medical Center." Some of the best hospitals in the world are there. The third downtown, west of the city center, is called "The Galleria" and is known, not surprisingly, for a huge, high-end shopping mall complex named The Galleria. All three of these areas look like a typical downtown in a big city with high-rise buildings and, at street level, concessions to pedestrians that include shops and eating establishments.
<P>Situated elsewhere in town, between these three pillars of development and surrounding them, are a dozen or more distinct districts that define the more-accessible heart of the people and the city.
<P>North of downtown - No other name has managed to stick for this area, just north of the original downtown and formerly the site of warehouses and industry. (A short-lived attempt to market the area as NoHo - NOrth of HOuston, get it? - died a well-deserved death and no good, short, snappy name has yet to fully permeate the collective consciousness of Houston.) Loft conversions and trendy residents are the rule in this area, nowadays, but there's still some good eats and nightlife to be found.
<P>The Heights -
<P>Southwest Houston -
<P>Enough big-picture stuff for now. If someone else hasn't done so, on my next trip to this page I'll apply the huge city template and get to work on making this article detailed enough to be useful. If you have any ideas, send them along to me at email@example.com or, better yet, edit this page yourself.