Houston, Texas

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Houston, Texas
Official flag of Houston, Texas Official seal of Houston, Texas
City flag City seal
City nickname: "Bayou City"

Location of Houston, Texas
Location in the state of Texas

Counties Harris County
Fort Bend County
Montgomery County
Mayor Bill White
Physical characteristics
601.7 mi² / 1,558.4 km²
     579.4 mi² / 1,500.7 km²
     22.3 mi² / 57.7 km²
     Total (2004)
5,180,443 (metro area)
     2,012,626 (city proper)
Latitude 29°40' N
Longitude 95°18' W
Time zone
     Summer (DST)
Central (UTC-6)
     Central (UTC-5)
Official website: www.houstontx.gov

Houston is the largest city in Texas, the fourth largest in the United States, and the second-largest economic area of the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The city is the county seat of Harris County, the third most populous county in the country. A portion of southwest Houston extends into Fort Bend County and a small portion in the northeast extends into Montgomery County.

Founded in 1836, Houston is one of the fastest growing major cities in the United States and the largest without zoning laws.

In 1900, Houston's population was about 45,000, making it the 85th largest city in the United States. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the city had a total population of 1.9 million (though a July 1, 2004 U.S. Census estimate placed the city's population at more than 2 million). Houston is the main cultural and economic center of the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown Metropolitan Area, which is the seventh largest metropolitan area in the United States with a population of about 5.2 million in ten counties.

Houston is world renowned for its energy (particularly oil) and aeronautics industries and for its ship channel. The Port of Houston is the sixth largest port in the world. It is the busiest port in the United States in foreign tonnage and second in overall tonnage. Second only to New York City in Fortune 500 headquarters, Houston is home to the Texas Medical Center — the world's largest and most important concentration of research and health care institutions. Houston has much to offer, including the lowest cost of living and the least-expensive housing among 27 major U.S. metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1.7 million. Houston was named a "Gamma World City" (Global City) by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group & Network (GaWC).

Officially, Houston is nicknamed the Space City as it is home to NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, where Mission Control Center is located (because of this, "Houston" was the first word spoken on the moon). Many locals, however, prefer to call it the Bayou City. Other nicknames include H-Town, Clutch City, and Magnolia City.

The city offers a wide range of business, entertainment and cultural opportunities, including a respected and thriving theater district. Less than an hour from the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is close to sunny beaches, one of the United States' largest concentrations of pleasure boats and tourist attractions such as the Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston Island.



Main article: History of Houston
See also: Historical events of Houston

Houston's founding

In the mid-1800s, two brothers who were New York real estate promoters, John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen, sought a location where they could begin building "a great center of government and commerce." In August 1836, they purchased 6,642 acres (27 km²) of land from T. F. L. Parrot, John Austin's widow, for $9,428. The Allen brothers named their town after Sam Houston and eventually persuaded the Texas Legislature to designate the site as the temporary capital of the new Republic of Texas.

Houston started out as a hamlet. Gail and Thomas H. Borden surveyed and mapped the town in typical grid fashion, with wide streets running parallel and perpendicular to the area's system of bayous. The city was granted incorporation on June 5, 1837, and James S. Holman became the first mayor. That same year, Houston also became the county seat of Harrisburg County, which was renamed Harris County in 1839. Houston was then made temporary capital of the Republic of Texas. On January 14, 1839, the capital was moved to Austin, then known as Waterloo.

19th century

Houston streetcar no. 49, circa 1890
Houston streetcar no. 49, circa 1890

Early settlers used lumber to build frame houses, ditches for drainage, and pigs to clean the streets. Lawlessness, epidemics and financial problems prompted the people of the community to attempt to improve their living conditions, including establishing a Chamber of Commerce. Spurred by that desire, state Senator Robert Wilson introduced a bill in the Congress of the Republic on November 26, 1838, to charter the Houston Chamber of Commerce. Because many of the first settlers were from the South, they endorsed the slavery-plantation system. Slaves lived scattered through the neighborhoods,though there were few free blacks in the city.

Yellow fever struck periodically, but in 1839 the disease devastated the fledgling city, killing about 12 percent of its population.

In 1840, the city was divided into four wards, each with different community functions. The wards are no longer political divisions today, though their names are still used to refer to geographic areas. The Allen brothers began to promote Houston as a place to live at the same time the Republic of Texas started promoting colonization of Texas.

By 1860 Houston began to emerge as a commercial and railroad hub for the export of cotton. Railroad spurs from the Texas inland converged in Houston, where they met rail lines to the ports of Galveston and Beaumont. During the Civil War, Houston served as a headquarters for General John Bankhead Magruder, which he used as his organizing point for the Battle of Galveston. Houston saloon keeper Dick Dowling became the city's first famous personality after his victory at the battle of Sabine Pass in 1863.

After the Civil War, Houston businessmen initiated efforts to widen the city's extensive system of bayous so the city could accept more commerce between downtown and the nearby Port of Galveston. After several privately-financed dredging projects in the 1860's and 1870's, the United States government took over the Houston Ship Channel project in 1881. By 1914, the Houston Ship Channel was dredged to give Houston a deep-water port, replacing Galveston's port which was destroyed in the Great Hurricane of 1900.

20th century

The space shuttle, atop its Boeing 747, flying over NASA's Johnson Space Center in suburban Houston.
The space shuttle, atop its Boeing 747, flying over NASA's Johnson Space Center in suburban Houston.

Shipbuilding during World War II spurred Houston's growth, as well as the establishment in 1961 of NASA's "Manned Spacecraft Center" (renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973), which created the city's aerospace industry. In 1948, several suburbs were incorporated into the city limits, and Houston proper began to spread across the prairie.

Houston benefited from high oil prices in the 1970s, but its reliance on petroleum as the base of its industry led to its downfall when oil prices collapsed in the 1980s. Since then, Houston has made efforts to diversify its economy, focusing on aerospace and biotechnology, and reducing its dependence on petroleum.

In 1981, Kathryn J. Whitmire became the city's first female mayor. Its first African American mayor, Lee P. Brown, was elected in 1997.

Current events

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina (August 2005), Houston provided shelter to more than 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans, Louisiana in various facilities around the city, including the infrequently-used Reliant Astrodome stadium. This unprecedented situation has lasted several months, and involves Houston's public school system, which is providing education for child evacuees. According to CNN, around 230,000 people from the New Orleans metropolitan area are now living in Houston, whether in shelters or elsewhere. Some have speculated that, because of a variety of social and economic factors, the enormous population shift could — at least in part — be permanent.

Many residents evacuated when Hurricane Rita approached the Gulf Coast. Rita left little damage in the Houston area, hitting Beaumont, Texas, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and areas surrounding the two cities the hardest.

The city's baseball team, the Houston Astros, advanced to the World Series for the first time in the team's history on October 19, 2005, when the team won game six of the Playoffs against their traditional rival the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Astros subsequently lost the World Series to the Chicago White Sox, who swept the series four to zero.

Geography and climate


Image taken on NASA's Landsat 7 satellite
Image taken on NASA's Landsat 7 satellite

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1,558.4 km² (601.7 mi²). 1,500.7 km² (579.4 mi²) of it is land and 57.7 km² (22.3 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 3.7 percent water.

Houston has four major bayous passing through the city: Buffalo Bayou, which runs into downtown; Brays Bayou, which runs along the Texas Medical Center; White Oak Bayou, which runs through the Heights and near the northwest area; and Sims Bayou, which runs through the south of Houston and downtown Houston, merging into the ship channel. The ship channel goes past Galveston and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Much of Houston is very flat, making flooding a recurring problem for its residents. The city stands about 50 feet (15 m) above sea level; the Houston Heights area has the highest elevation in the city. The city once relied on groundwater for its water needs, but land subsidence forced the city to turn to ground-level water sources such as Lake Houston.

Urban layout

Main article: Disticts and communities of Houston

When Houston was established in 1837, the city's founders divided it into political geographic districts called "wards." The ward designation is the progenitor of the current-day Houston City Council districts — there are nine in all.

Locations in Houston are generally classified as either being inside or outside Interstate 610, known as the "610 Loop" or "The Loop". Inside the loop generally encompasses the central business district, and has come to define an urban lifestyle and state of mind. The appellation “inner looper” carries with it the expectation of someone who appreciates cosmopolitan-style city life.

The outlying areas of Houston, the airports and the city's suburbs and enclaves are outside the loop. Another ring road, Texas Beltway 8 (also known simply as the "Beltway"), encircles the city another 5 miles (8 km) further out. Another ring road, Texas Highway 99 (also known as the Grand Parkway), is under construction.

Houston, being the largest city in the United States without zoning laws, has grown in an unusual manner. Rather than a single “downtown” as the center of the city's employment, five additional business districts have grown throughout the inner-city. If these business districts were combined, they would form the third largest downtown in the United States.

Houston has the lowest housing cost of any major city in the United States, probably due to the absence of zoning laws.

Downtown Houston from Buffalo Bayou
Downtown Houston from Buffalo Bayou


Houston's climate is classified as being humid subtropical. The city is located in the gulf coastal plains biome, and its vegetation is classified as temperate grassland. Much of Houston was built on forested land, marshes, swamp, or prairie, all of which can still be seen in surrounding areas. Average yearly precipitation levels range from 36 to 48 inches (914 to 1219 mm). Prevailing winds are from the south and southeast during most of the year, bringing heat from the deserts of Mexico and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

In the summer, daily high temperatures are in the 95ºF (35ºC) to 110ºF (45ºC) range throughout much of July and August. The air tends to feel still and the humidity (often 90 to 100 percent relative humidity) makes the air feel hotter and prevents perspiration. To cope with the heat, people use air conditioning in nearly every car and building in the city. Summer thunderstorms sometimes bring tornadoes to the area. Afternoon rains are not uncommon, and most days Houston meteorologists predict at least some chance of rain. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Houston was 109 °F (42.7 °C) on September 4, 2000.

Winters in Houston are cool and temperate. Many days the temperatures are between the 45º and 55ºF (7ºC and 16ºC). The coldest period is usually in January, when north winds bring winter rains. Snow is almost unheard of, and typically does not accumulate when it is seen. The last snowstorm to hit Houston was on Christmas Eve, 2004; however, only a few inches accumulated and it was all melted by the next afternoon. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Houston was 5 °F (-15 °C) on January 23, 1940.

Houston's climate is often compared to that of Dallas. Both cities experience temperatures above 90ºF during summer; however, Dallas has a dry climate while Houston has a very humid climate. While Dallas gets hotter temperatures, Houston's higher humidity levels often result in a higher heat index. During the winter, though, Dallas regularly experiences temperatures below freezing, while Houston rarely does.

Natural disasters

The "500-year" flood from Tropical Storm Allison
The "500-year" flood from Tropical Storm Allison

Hurricanes have slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast on numerous occasions; several have passed through Houston, often causing death and destruction. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 led to Galveston losing its status as the major port city and economic power in Southeast Texas; subsequent development of the Houston ship channel and its port refineries shifted the honor to Houston. The last hurricane of consequence to hit Houston was Hurricane Alicia in 1983, but in 2001, Tropical Storm Allison dumped feet of rain on the city, causing billions of dollars in damages and taking 43 lives. To date, the flooding caused by Allison was the worst in the city's history. Many neighborhoods have changed since the storm; older houses in some affected neighborhoods have been torn down and replaced with larger houses with larger foundations. Recently, Houston suffered minimal damage from Hurricane Rita.

Downtown Houston

In the 1960s, Downtown Houston comprised of a modest collection of mid-rise office structures, but has since grown into one of the largest skylines in the United States. In 1960, the central business district had 10 million square feet (1,000,000 m²) of office space, increasing to about 16 million square feet (1,600,000 m²) in 1970. Downtown Houston was on the threshold of a boom in 1970 with 8.7 million square feet (8,700,000 m²) of office space planned or under construction and huge projects being launched by real estate developers. The largest proposed development was the 32 block Houston Center. Only a small part of the original proposal was ultimately constructed. Other large projects included the Cullen Center, Allen Center, and towers for Shell Oil Company. The surge of skyscrapers mirrored the skyscraper booms in other cities, such as Los Angeles and Dallas. Houston experienced another downtown construction spurt in the 1970s with the energy industry boom.

The first major skyscraper to be constructed in Houston was the 50-floor, 714-foot-tall (218 m) One Shell Plaza in 1971. A succession of skycrapers were built throughout the 1970s, culminating with Houston's tallest skyscraper, the 75-floor, 1,002-foot-tall (305 m) JPMorgan Chase Tower (formerly the Texas Commerce Tower), which was completed in 1982. In 2002, it was the ninth tallest building in the United States and the 23rd tallest skyscaper in the world. In 1983, the 71-floor, 970-foot-tall (296 m) Wells Fargo Plaza was completed. Skyscraper construction in downtown Houston came to an end in the mid-1980s with the collapse of Houston's energy industry and the resulting severe economic recession. When the 53-floor Texaco Heritage Plaza was completed in 1987, it appeared that no more skyscrapers would be constructed for a while. However, in 2002, the Houston-based Enron Corporation began construction of a 40-floor skyscraper which was about to be completed in 2001, the year the company collapsed in one of the most dramatic corporate failures in the history of the United States. Other smaller office structures were built in the 2000-2003 period. As of December 2001, downtown Houston had about 40 million square feet (4,000,000 m²) of office space, including 28 million square feet (2,800,000 m²) of class A office space.

Many downtown buildings are linked by a system of tunnels and skywalks.

Uptown Houston

The Uptown Houston district boomed along with Houston during the 1970s and early 1980s. A collection of mid-rise office buildings appeared along the Interstate 610 west (or simply "West Loop"). It became one of the most impressive instances of the edge city. The highest achievement of Uptown Houston was the construction of the landmark 899-foot-tall (274 m) Williams Tower (known as the Transco Tower until 1999). At the time, it was believed to the be the world's tallest skyscraper outside of a central business district. The Williams Tower was the product of a unique era in Houston: energy companies were loaded with assets and sought impressive, monumental structures to broadcast their power.

The Uptown Houston district is also home to other landmark buildings, designed by architects such as César Pelli and Philip Johnson. Large-scale office construction in Uptown Houston, however, came to an end with the collapse of energy prices and the meltdown of Houston's economy in the mid-to-late 1980s. Uptown Houston had 23.8 million square feet (2,210,000 m²) of office space in 2001, whereas Downtown Houston had about 40 million square feet (4,000,000 m²). In the late 1990s, there was a mini-boom of mid-rise residential tower construction, typically about 30 stories tall. Uptown Houston has accumulated a large concentration of high-rise residential structures for such a low-density city.


See also: List of major companies in Houston

Houston's energy industry is a world powerhouse (particularly oil), but biomedical research, aeronautics and the ship channel are also large parts of the city's industrial base. The Houston metro area comprises the largest petrochemical manufacturing area in the world, including for synthetic rubber, insecticides and fertilizers. The area is also the world's leading center for building oilfield equipment. Much of Houston's success as a petrochemical complex is due to its man-made ship channel, the Port of Houston, which is one of the busiest ports in the United States and second in the world in foreign tonnage. Because of these economic trades, many residents have moved to Houston from other U.S. states, as well as hundreds of countries worldwide. Unlike most places, where high gas prices are seen as harmful to the economy, they are generally seen as beneficial for Houston as many are employed in the energy industry.

Historically, Houston has had several growth spurts (and some devastating economic recessions) related to the oil industry. The discovery of oil near Houston in 1901 led to its first growth spurt — by the 1920s, Houston had grown to almost 140,000 people. The city's burgeoning aerospace industry heralded its second growth spurt, which solidified with the 1973 oil crisis. Demand on Texas oil increased, and many people from the northeast moved to Houston to profit from the trade. When the embargo was lifted, the growth mostly stopped. However, Pasadena still has its refineries, and the Port of Houston is among the busiest in the world.

Houston is second to New York City in Fortune 500 headquarters. It has attempted to build a banking industry, but the companies originally started in Houston have since merged with other companies nationwide. Banking is still vital to the region, but most of the banks operating in the city are not based there. Real estate is also a large presence in the Houston area. Houston is also home to ADV Films, which is the largest producer/distributor of anime (Japanese Animation) in North America.

Government and politics

See also: List of Mayors in Houston, List of embassies and consulates

Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall

Houston is the county seat of Harris County. A portion of southwest Houston, east of Missouri City, extends into Fort Bend County and also portion of northeast Houston extends into Montgomery County.

The current mayor of Houston is Bill White, who is serving his second term. In Houston, a mayor can be elected consecutively for three terms. City Council members, who also have a three-term limit, are elected from nine districts in the city, along with five at-large positions. At-large council members represent the entire city. The current city council lineup was based on a U.S. Justice Department mandate which took effect in 1979. Houston is considered a home rule city; members of city council and the city controller are nonpartisan positions.

Many local lawmakers have been impacted by the city's term limits. Several former city officials — Anthony Hall, Rodney Ellis, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Sylvia Garcia, Martha Wong, Chris Bell, and Annise Parker — had to run for another elected position once their term expired.

Former mayor Lee P. Brown denounced the term limits, saying they prevented incumbents from gaining enough experience in city government. A proposal to double the current two-year term of office has been debated — as of 2005, several candidates for the city council have brought up the issue of whether term limits should be amended or eliminated.

Some elected officials from the Greater Houston area within the Texas Legislature — primarily Garnet Coleman and Sylvester Turner — have also spoken against term limits.

People and culture

See: List of famous people raised in Houston

Because the Greater Houston area and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex are the major economic centers of Texas, the two areas enjoy a friendly rivalry. Houstonians often consider themselves more "down to earth" than their neighbors to the north, and some Houstonians complain that Dallas seems to get more attention nationally, even though Houston has a larger population. This rivalry often leads to comparison of the assets of one city to the assets of the other. For example, although Dallas has more restaurants per person than even New York City, Houstonians eat out more often than residents of any other city in the United States. The only city in which eating out is cheaper than Houston is New Orleans, Louisiana.

Several Houston-based restaurants (most notably Ninfa Laurenzo's Mama Ninfa's Mexican restaurant chain, Johnny Carrabba's Carrabba's, and Kim Su Tran La's Kim Sơn Vietnamese restaurant chain) have become well known in Texas and throughout the country. The design for the first Compaq computer was sketched on a napkin at "House of Pies", a well-known diner in the Upper Kirby district, near the Montrose area.

A cosmopolitan city

Houston is a diverse and international city, in part because of its its many academic institutions and strong biomedical, energy, manufacturing and aerospace industries. A port city, Houston also has large populations of immigrants from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan and Vietnam. This influx of immigrants is partially responsible for Houston having a population younger than the national average.

Houston has two Chinatowns, as well as the third largest Vietnamese American population in the United States. Recent redevelopment of Midtown from run-down to upscale has increased property values and property taxes, but has also forced some Vietnamese Americans into other areas of the city.

About 90 languages are spoken in the area. Some neighborhoods with high populations of Vietnamese and Chinese residents have Chinese and Vietnamese street signs in addition to English ones. Houston has the second highest South African population in the United States, after Miami, Florida. The city is also noted for its large Nigerian population, counting about 100,000 native Nigerians as residents[1].

The Hispanic population in Houston is increasing as more and more people from Latin countries try to find work in Houston — Houston has the third largest Hispanic population in the United States.

Aided by the popularity of the late hip-hop artist DJ Screw, Houston is known among youth, primarily in the South, as having its own distinctive style of hip-hop commonly known as screw music (referred to locally as simply "screw.") Many young Houstonians of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds in touch with local hip-hop culture may remember the advent of this form of Southern rap which began to take place around late 1999, helping the city earn an appropriate nickname given by artists and fans: "Screwston". Swishahouse, the city's premier rap label, is home to some of the city's most popular acts: Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Dj Paskidnyak, Reza B and Pullins Stunts. Houston is also the hometown and birthplace of Destiny's Child.

Health and fitness

In 2005, Men's Fitness magazine named Houston the fattest city in the United States (the fourth time the city has received such an award since 2001). In 2005, the magazine based its rating on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey listing 23 percent of Houstonians as clinically obese, as well as other statistics such as Houston having twice the number of doughnut shops per capita compared to the national average, and statistics showing Houstonians eat out more than any other city's population. After the magazines's announcement, Houston Mayor Bill White created the citywide Get Moving Houston program to increase fitness and wellness among Houstonians.

Cultural institutions

See also: List of museums outside of the Museum District

Known for the vibrancy of its visual and performing arts, Houston's theater district is ranked second in the country (behind New York City) in the amount of theater seats in a concentrated downtown area. Houston has world-class visual and performing arts organizations, along with a dose of homegrown folk art such as Art Cars. Houston is also one of only five cities in the United States with permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines (the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Ballet, and The Alley Theatre)[2]. Houston widely recognized as the nation's third most important city for contemporary visual arts. The city is a prime stop for touring companies from Broadway; concerts and shows, from The Rolling Stones to Cirque du Soleil; and exhibitions for a variety of interests, ranging from the nation's largest quilting show to auto, boat and home shows.

Adjacent to the Texas Medical Center is the Museum District, including Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum, The Menil Collection, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Houston is also home to several multicultural arts organizations including: MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts), Kuumba House Dance Theatre, and Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say.


Space Center Houston is the official visitors’ center of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Space Center Houston includes many interactive exhibits — including moon rocks and a shuttle simulator — in addition to special presentations that tell the story of NASA's manned space flight program. It also features Texas’ largest IMAX theater.

Houston's many parks include Hermann Park, which has a zoo, a museum of natural science, and a planetarium. The civic center was replaced by the George R. Brown Convention Center, one of the nation's largest; and the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, home of the symphony orchestra. Sam Houston Coliseum and Music Hall have been replaced by the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

Other tourist attractions include the Galleria, a huge enclosed shopping mall noted for its luxury stores; Old Market Square; Sam Houston Historical Park, which contains restored homes (built between 1824 and 1868) and reconstructed buildings. The San Jacinto battlefield is in the nearby city of Deer Park. The Port of Houston offers free, 90-minute cruises (except on Mondays and during September). Less than an hour from the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is close to sunny beaches, one of the nation's largest concentrations of pleasure boats, and tourist attractions such as the Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston Island.

Media and entertainment

See also: List of famous events in Houston, List of newspapers in Houston, List of television stations in Houston, List of movies set in Houston

Houston is served by the Houston Chronicle, its only major daily newspaper with wide distribution. Houston also is home to several TV stations and radio stations that serve the metro area.

KTRK TV's Marvin Zindler is a well-known figure in Houston, recognizable as much for his voice as for his trademark blue eyeglasses. His week-long exposé on the Chicken Ranch brothel later became the basis for the Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and his health reports on local restaurants have made the phrase "slime in the ice machine" immediately recognizable to any local.

KHOU-TV's team of "Defenders" began and led an investigation into the failure of Firestone Wilderness AT tires in several vehicles that ended up becoming a national story with wide-reaching implications. These reports garnered the reporters and the station national and international attention and awards.

Univision Affiliate KXLN-TV is among the highest rated Spanish-language television stations in the United States. Its "En Su Defensa" (in your defense) segments have garnered regional acclaim, and En Su Defensa month was proclaimed by Mayor Bill White in 2004.


Colleges and universities

See also: List of colleges and universities in Houston

Houston is home to the prestigious Rice University, a private institution boasting one of the largest financial endowments of any university in the world and ranked the 17th best university overall in the nation by U.S. News & World Report [3]. The small undergraduate student body is among the nation's most select and has one of the highest percentages of National Merit Scholarship winners. Rice maintains a variety of research facilities and laboratories. Rice is also associated with the Houston Area Research Center, a consortium supported by Rice, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.

Houston is served by the University of Houston System, the largest urban state system of higher education in the Gulf Coast. The system has four universities, all but one of which are in Houston, and two multi-institution teaching centers. Their flagship institution is the University of Houston, the only doctoral degree granting extensive research institution in Houston and the third largest in the state of Texas with an enrollment of more than 35,000. The University of Houston is also home to more than 40 research centers and institutes. Among the most prestigious of the University of Houston's colleges is the University of Houston Law Center (law school). The University of Houston Law Center's Health Law and Policy Institute is ranked number one in the nation while its intellectual property law program is ranked fifth, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Houston is the seat of the internationally-renowned Texas Medical Center, which contains the world's largest concentration of research and healthcare institutions including Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is widely considered one of the world’s most productive and highly-regarded academic institutions devoted to cancer patient care, research, education and prevention.

Texas Southern University, a Historically Black College & University (HBCU) located in Houston, is heralded as a pioneer, and distinguishes itself as one of the leading producers of African American scholars that obtain collegiate, professional, and graduate degrees in the state, as well as the nation.

Houston also is home to the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic Liberal Arts college following the Byzantine tradition, founded by the Basilian fathers of Canada, and located in the Montrose district. Another religious college serving Houston is Houston Baptist University. South Texas College of Law, located in the heart of downtown Houston, boasts one of the nation's finest programs for trial advocacy.

Much of Houston is served by the Houston Community College System, which is one of the largest community college systems in the United States. HCCS serves the HISD portion of Houston and other areas. Parts of northern Houston are served by North Harris Montgomery Community College District. Parts of eastern and southeastern Houston are served by San Jacinto College. Many of Houston's suburbs also have their own community college systems.

Schools and libraries

There are many school districts serving the city of Houston, the largest of which, the Houston Independent School District, serves a large majority of the area within the city limits.

A portion of west Houston falls under the Spring Branch and Alief independent school districts. Aldine and North Forest independent school districts take up a part of northeast Houston. Parts of Pasadena, Clear Creek, Crosby, Cypress-Fairbanks, Fort Bend, Galena Park, Huffman, Humble, Katy, New Caney, and Sheldon independent school districts take students from the city limits of Houston.

Houston has several well-known private schools. Houston and Houston-area Catholic schools are operated by the Diocese of Galveston/Houston. Well-known private schools in the city limits of Houston include St. Thomas High School, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, Saint Agnes Academy, St. John's School, Awty International School, Emery/Weiner School, and The Kinkaid School. In nearby Bellaire is Episcopal High School.

The Houston Public Library has 36 branches throughout the city, plus the Central Library, located Downtown. The Harris County Public Library has 26 branches, mostly in areas outside the city limits of Houston.



See also: List of highways in Houston
For a road map of Houston, click here

Interstate 45 as it traverses Downtown Houston
Interstate 45 as it traverses Downtown Houston

In Houston Urban sprawl and hot, humid summers have made automobiles the favored means of transportation. Houston also has excessive ozone levels and is ranked among the most ozone-polluted cities in the United States.

Houston freeways are heavily traveled and often under construction to meet the demands of continuing growth. Interstate 45 south has been in a continuous state of construction, in one portion or another, almost since the first segment was built in 1952. Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) planners have sought ways to reduce rush hour congestion, primarly through High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane for vans and carpools. Timed freeway entrances, which regulate the addition of cars to the freeway, are also common. Houston has an extensive network of freeway cameras linked to a transit control center to monitor and study traffic.

One characteristic of Houston's freeways (and Texas freeways in general) are its frontage roads (which locals call "feeders"). Alongside most freeways are two to four lanes in each direction parallel to the freeway permitting easy access to individual city streets. Frontage roads provide access to the freeway from businesses alongside, such as gas stations and retail stores. New landscaping projects and a longstanding ban on new billboards are ways Houston has tried to control the potential side effects of convenience.

Houston has a hub-and-spoke freeway structure with multiple loops. The innermost is Interstate 610, forming approximately a 10 mile diameter loop around downtown. The roughly square "Loop-610" is quartered into "North Loop," "South Loop," "West Loop," and "East Loop." The roads of Texas Beltway 8 and their freeway core, the Sam Houston Tollway, are the next loop, at a diameter of roughly 25 miles. Most of this freeway requires payment of $1.25 toll every five or ten miles ($2.00 toll when crossing the Houston Ship Channel). A controversial proposed highway project, Texas Highway 99 (The Grand Parkway), would form a third loop outside of Houston. Currently, the completed portion of Texas Highway 99 runs from just north of Interstate 10, west of Houston, to U.S. Highway 59 in Sugar Land, southwest of Houston, and was completed in 1994. The next portion to be constructed is from the current terminus at U.S. Highway 59 to Texas Highway 288 in Brazoria County.

Mass transit

METRORail in Downtown Houston
METRORail in Downtown Houston

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, or METRO, provides public transportation in the form of buses, trolleys and lift vans. Uptown, METRO provides free service on the Uptown Shuttle.

METRO began running light rail service (METRORail) on January 1, 2004. Currently the track is rather short — it runs about 8 miles (13 km) primarily along Main Street from central Downtown Houston to the Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park. A 27-mile (43 km) expansion has been approved to run the service from Uptown (the Galleria area) through Texas Southern University, ending at the University of Houston campus. METRO's various forms of public transportation still do not connect the suburbs to the greater city, causing Houstonians to rely on the automobile as a primary source of transportation.


Houston is served by George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport (named Houston International Airport until 1963). Bush Intercontinental handles all of the city's international traffic, while Hobby services shorter-haul routes. Hobby is also the only airport in the city served by Southwest Airlines. Bush Intercontinental is the hub airport for Continental Airlines, which is headquartered in Houston.

The city's third-largest airport, Ellington Field, in the past was used to ferry passengers between Galveston County and Bush Intercontinential, to cut down on driving time. Passenger flights ended on September 7, 2004.

Located in Sugar Land, southwest of Houston, is the Sugar Land Regional Airport, formerly Sugar Land Municipal Airport. Sugar Land Regional is the fourth largest airport in the greater Houston area, and the only general reliever airport in the southwest sector. The airport mostly serves corporate, governmental and private planes.


See also: Former professional sports teams in Houston

Houston is home to the Houston Astros, Houston Texans, Houston Rockets, Houston Comets, and Houston Aeros, all of whom are playing in new state-of-the-art stadiums. Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) and Toyota Center (home of the Rockets, Comets and Aeros) are located Downtown, contributing to an urban renaissance that has transformed Houston's center into a day-and-night destination. Rice Stadium, at Rice University, was the home to Super Bowl VIII, and Super Bowl XXXVIII was played at the Reliant Stadium in February 2004. Other sports facilities in Houston are Hofheinz Pavilion, Reliant Astrodome, and Robertson Stadium.

Beginning in 2006, the Champ Car auto racing series will return to Houston for a yearly race, held on the streets of the Reliant Park complex. The city had previously been home to a Champ Car round from 1998 to 2001. On April 1, 2001, Houston hosted WWE's Wrestlemania X-Seven at the Reliant Astrodome.

The city hosts the NCAA football Houston Bowl each December.

Leslie Alexander, owner of the Houston Rockets is currently working to bring a NHL franchise to the city, most likely by the acquisition and move of an existing team.

Club Sport League Stadium Logo
Houston Texans Football National Football League (AFC) Reliant Stadium Houston Texans Logo
Houston Astros Baseball Major League Baseball (NL) Minute Maid Park Houston Astros Logo
Houston Rockets Basketball National Basketball Association Toyota Center Houston Rockets Logo
Houston Comets Basketball Women's National Basketball Association Toyota Center Houston Comets Logo
Houston Aeros Ice Hockey American Hockey League Toyota Center Houston Aeros Logo


As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there are 1,953,631 people, 717,945 households, and 457,330 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,301.8/km² (3,371.7/mi²). There are 782,009 housing units at an average density of 521.1/km² (1,349.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 49.27% White, 25.31% Black or African American, 0.44% Native American, 5.31% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 16.46% from other races, and 3.15% from two or more races. 37.41% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 717,945 households out of which 33.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.2% are married couples living together, 15.3% have a female householder with no husband present, and 36.3% are non-families. 29.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 6.2% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.67 and the average family size is 3.39.

In the city the population is spread out with 27.5% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 33.8% from 25 to 44, 19.1% from 45 to 64, and 8.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 31 years. For every 100 females there are 99.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 97.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $36,616, and the median income for a family is $40,443. Males have a median income of $32,084 versus $27,371 for females. The per capita income for the city is $20,101. 19.2% of the population and 16.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 26.1% of those under the age of 18 and 14.3% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Sister cities

Houston has 16 sister cities. Parentheses denote the year in which sister city relationships were established.


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