THE STATE OF TEXAS IS perennially known for its propensity for doing, making, and liking things just a bit bigger than the next guy. Or, in some cases, a lot bigger than the next guy. For generations, Texans have prided themselves on being the biggest and the best. The city of Houston therefore must be a source of unequaled pride, because in a state of big, Houston is just about as big as it gets. The city is big, the buildings are big, and as the source of the silicon revolution—the kind involving implants, not microchips—even the breasts are big. With such immensity, it should come as no surprise that Houston is in many ways comparable to other urban epicenters of trade and culture, like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—the only three cities in the United States larger than Houston. Houston is the quintessential model for Texas big, and below are a few of the big statistics that helped to make it so.
With a population of nearly 2 million people inside the city limits alone and more than 4.5 million in the general metropolitan area, it’s obvious that the attraction to Houston goes far beyond that of your normal Texas city. In fact, Harris County is the third largest county in the nation.
Geographically speaking, Houston is no slouch. With 617 square miles within the city limits and 8,778 square miles in the metropolitan area, Houston is not lacking in space (all puns on NASA happily intended). In fact, if one was so inclined and had the ability to do so, he could fit eight Rhode Islands into the metropolitan area.
The people of Houston are without a doubt the core to the quality of the city’s charisma—and that doesn’t mean just the long, tall Texans who spring to mind with the mention of the city (thanks in no small part by such uniform representations from movies like Urban Cowboy and Twins). Houston is home to more than one hundred ethnic groups, and more than ninety languages are spoken throughout the metropolitan area.
Keeping everybody entertained in a city this large is no small task by any means, yet somehow Houston has managed to define itself as a cultural center of great renown. Houston has more than five hundred cultural, visual, and performing arts organizations, with ninety devoted to multicultural and minority acts.
Part of keeping everybody entertained is giving them a Theater District second only to New York’s (Houston’s has more than 12,000 seats concentrated in a seventeen-block downtown area). The Alley Theatre, winner of a 1996 special Tony award for outstanding regional theater, is the third oldest resident theater in the country, a fact that puts it into the same category of prestige as the Houston Symphony, one of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas and founded in part by Ima Hogg (who, contrary to popular belief, did not have a sister named Ura), the Houston Grand Opera, the fifth largest opera company in the nation, and Theatre Under the Stars, which, in terms of budget, activity, and attendance, is one of the largest nonprofit musical theaters in the U.S.
Of course, entertainment and culture are nothing without the right intellectual stimulation. That’s why Houston is home to eleven museum institutions, among them the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The MFAH is the sixth largest museum in the country and houses an impressive and well-respected collection from a variety of artists. The Museum of Natural Science is the fourth most visited attraction in the U.S., more than likely because it is one of the most respected science organizations in the country.
Houston is also a rather hungry city. With 11,000 restaurants, Houston eats out more than any other city.
Houston is well equipped to keep all of these people healthy. The Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world, consists of 42 nonprofit institutions situated on more than 700 acres. This internationally respected medical center has received great renown for its heart transplants and cancer treatment programs and has an estimated economic impact of $11.5 billion a year on Houston.
Without a doubt Houston is a city of movement: There are 570 miles of expressways and freeways.
George Bush Intercontinental, William P. Hobby, and Ellington Field airports together create the fourth largest airport system in the country and the sixth largest in the world. Between the three airports, more than 150 markets are served worldwide and more than 44.5 million passengers pass through annually.
Anyone who has ever been to Houston is aware of the $15 billion petrochemical complex at the Port of Houston. The Houston Ship Channel, opened in 1914, allows enough ships to enter the Port of Houston to rank it number one in the U.S. in international tonnage and number two in the U.S. in total tonnage.
If by water, land, or air is too mundane, then the Johnson Space Center and NASA, both located in the area of Clear Lake to the south of Houston, are the places to go to make your way by space flight. Both are responsible for training all of the nation’s astronauts as well as coordinating the development and design work for the international space station and the space shuttle.
If none of this seems down-home-country-fun enough, there is always the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, one of the world’s largest. With more than 1.8 million visitors each year, it definitely tips the scales of Texas big.