The Accidental City

A new book paints a witty, perceptive portrait of Houston, a metropolis as culturally complex as it is commercially crass.

HOUSTON, THAT SPRAWLING LABORATORY OF URBAN experiments, has gone about its work largely outside the purview of expert observers. Limited to the stereotypes advanced by hand-wringing outsiders on the one hand and high-on-hydrocarbons boosters on the other, we really don’t know that much about our nation’s most modern, anarchic, and uninhibitedly capitalistic city. The picture becomes much clearer, however, with the publication this month of Ephemeral City: Cite Looks at Houston (University of Texas Press). An anthology of articles spanning the first twenty years of Cite, the highly regarded journal of the Rice Design Alliance, Ephemeral City is in equal measure a sweeping historical overview, civic memoir, and municipal self-help guide. It adds up to a witty, unfailingly perceptive portrait of a Houston we haven’t seen before, a metropolis as culturally complex as it is commercially crass, as brilliantly

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