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Encyclopedia > Houston
Houston redirects here. This article refers to the largest city of Texas. For other meanings of the word, please see Houston (disambiguation).

Skyline of Downtown Houston from Eleanor Tinsley Park

Located in southeast Texas, Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and one of the two largest economic areas in Texas. The city is the county seat of Harris County, the third most populous county in the country. A portion of far southwest Houston also extends into Fort Bend County. A small portion in the north extends into Montgomery County.

As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 1,953,631, but a July 1, 2002, Census estimate placed the city's population at 2,167,460. Houston is one of the newest and fastest growing major cities in the United States. In 1900, the population in Houston was about 45,000, and it was the 85th largest town in the U.S. Now, quoted as the "Fastest Growing City in America" and "the Most Popular City to Relocate," there are as many as 5 million people living in the Houston Metropolitan Area. The city limits cover about 600 square miles (1,600 km) in area, and it's also the largest city in the United States which does not have zoning laws.

Houston is considered a "Gamma World City" by the GaWC.

Picture of the Uptown Houston Skyline.

Houston is world renowned for its energy industry (particularly oil), aeronautics industry and ship channel. The Port of Houston is one of the busiest ports in the United States, second in the world as far as foreign tonnage. Because of the economic trades, many residents have moved in from other U.S. states, as well as hundreds of countries worldwide.

Officially, Houston has been nicknamed the Space City. "Houston" was the first word uttered on the moon, as Neil Armstrong reported back to NASA. It is known by the locals, however, as the Bayou City. (Other nicknames include "H-Town", "Clutch City", and "Magnolia City".)

Rice Stadium, at Rice University in Houston, was the home to the Super Bowl VIII, and Super Bowl XXXVIII was played at Houston's Reliant Stadium in February 2004. Because of the incredible turnout, the NFL says the city is almost guaranteed to host the 2009 or 2010 game as well.

Houston, Texas
City Flag City seal

Location in the state of Texas
City nickname: "Space City"
County Harris County, Fort Bend County, and Montgomery County
 - Total
 - Water

1,558.4 km (601.7 mi)
57.7 km (22.3 mi) 3.70%

 - City (2000)
 - Metropolitan

 - Density


Time zone Central: UTC-6


2940' N
9518' W

External link: City web page (http://cityofhouston.gov)


Main article: History of Houston

Historical Events:

  • 1836 - The Allen Brothers, John Kirby and Augustus Chapman co-founded Houston.
  • June 5, 1837 - The city gets a city charter from the Congress of the Republic of Texas. It became the provisional capital of Texas.
  • 1839 - The capital of the Republic moves to Austin, Texas. The dispute over where the state records should go would cause a conflict.
  • 1900s - Oil is discovered in Texas. A new industry will start.
  • 1902 - President Theodore Roosevelt approves a one-million dollar fund for the construction of the Houston Ship Channel.
  • 1914 - President Woodrow Wilson opens the Houston Ship Channel 74 years after the digging had started.
  • 1920s - The Texas oil boom causes people to move into the city, causing its first growth spurt.
  • 1937 - Houston Municipal Airport, which would later become William P. Hobby Airport, is opened.
  • 1948 - The Gulf Freeway opens, and signals the beginning of freeway construcion in the city.
  • 1963 - The Manned Spacecraft Center, which would become the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center opens on land donated by Rice University.
  • 1963 - The Humble Building is completed, the tallest building west of the Mississippi River at the time.
  • April 9, 1965 - The Astrodome opens. At the same time, the Houston Colt .45s are rechristened as the Houston Astros.
  • 1969 - Houston Intercontinental Airport, currently George Bush Intercontinental Airport, is opened to the public.
  • July 20, 1969 - "Houston" becomes the first word spoken from the moon, by astronaut Neil Armstrong of the Apollo 11 mission.
  • 1970s - The Arab Oil Embargo causes demand for Texas oil to boom. People from the "Rust Belt" states like New York and Pennsylvania move into Houston.
  • 1978 - The headquarters of Continental Airlines move to Houston after buying out Texas International.
  • 1979 - the Clear Lake area and a section of Fort Bend County east of Missouri City, TX are annexed by Houston.
  • 1980s - The end of the Embargo causes the Houston growth bubble to burst.
  • 1981 - Kathryn J. Whitmire is elected as the first woman mayor. She would appoint Lee P. Brown as the first African American police chief.
  • 1982 - Texas Commerce Bank Tower is completed in Downtown Houston, making it the tallest building west of the Mississippi until the late 1980's, and presently the tallest five-sided building in the world.
  • April 5, 1986 - City takes part in celebration of Texas' Sesquicentennial, 25th Anniversary of NASA, and the Houston International Festival with Rendez-vous Houston concert. At the time it is the largest outdoor concert in history, and is entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.
  • June 1, 1987 - The former Shamrock Hilton hotel is demolished as part of the Texas Medical Center expansion efforts despite protests from historical preservationists.
  • July 9-11, 1990 - Houston hosts the 16th G7 Summit
  • April 1993 - The Westheimer Colony Art Festival is held on a stretch of Calhoun Street (now St. Joseph Parkway) in Downtown Houston; it was the first time the art festival was not held in the Montrose. After 1996, the festival was renamed the Bayou City Art Festival.
  • 1996 - The city of Kingwood, Texas is annexed by Houston.
  • November 1997 - Former Houston Police Chief Lee P. Brown is elected as Houston's first African American mayor; at the same time, Annise Parker is the first openly gay or lesbian city councilmember.
  • May 6-May 7, 2000 - After 27 years of holding the Westheimer Street Festival in the Montrose, the festival was held in Eleanor Tinsley Park west of Downtown Houston. Promoters of the festival were denied a street closure permit back in January 2000 under a revised festival ordinance where public hearings are held. Attendance figures declined.
  • November 2001 - Enron is found to have accounting scandals. The company goes bankrupt.
  • November 5, 2002 - Houston City Controller Sylvia R. Garcia (in her third term) successfully campaigns for Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2, making her the first Hispanic female to hold office in the Harris County Commissioners Court. After Garcia's victory, the Houston City Council appoints Judy Gray Johnson to fill her unexpired term until the November 2003 elections.
  • May 2003 - For the first time, the Houston Art Car Parade is not held on the same weekend with the Houston International Festival.
  • June 28-June 29, 2003 - The Westheimer Street Festival staged their homecoming on Westheimer during Gay Pride Weekend after promoters decided to move the festival back to the Montrose because of it declining attendance when the festival was on Allen Parkway since May 2000.
  • Fall 2003 - Halliburton's headquarters move from Dallas to Houston.
  • December 6, 2003 - Annise Parker defeats fellow councilmember Bruce Tatro to become Houston's first openly lesbian city controller. Both Parker and Tatro are term-limited in their current seats.
  • January 1, 2004 - METRORail is opened to the public at 1 p.m. CST - this marks the reintroduction of rail service since June 1940.
  • 2004 - Houston gets a light rail line and hosts the Super Bowl as well as the All-Star Game.
  • 2004 - Citgo's headquarters move from Tulsa to Houston
  • December 24, 2004 - Freak snowstorm hits, causing record Christmas snowfall in the region.

Murders and disasters

Geography and Climate

A simulated-color satellite image of Houston, Texas, taken on NASA's Landsat 7 satellite. In the very center is Downtown Houston. Galveston is also clearly visible in the picture.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1,558.4 km (601.7 mi). 1,500.7 km (579.4 mi) of it is land and 57.7 km (22.3 mi) of it is water. The total area is 3.70% water.

Houston's climate is classified as being humid subtropical. The city is located in the gulf coastal plains biome, and the vegetation is classified as a temperate grassland. Much of Houston was built on forested land, marshes or prarie, all of which can still be seen in surrounding areas. Average yearly precipitation levels range from 36 to 48 inches (900 to 1200 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 summertime, daily high temperatures are in the 90 to 105 F (32 to 41 C) range throughout much of July and August. The air tends to feel still and the humidity (often 90 to 100% relative humidity) makes the air feel hotter than it really is. To cope with the heat, people use air conditioning in nearly every car and post-war building in the city.

Summer thunderstorms sometimes bring the moderately common tornadoes to the area. Afternoon rains are not uncommon, and Houston meteorologists are not given to predicting a zero percent chance of rain on most days.

Winters in Houston are cool and temperate. The coolest 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.

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

Most of Houston is very flat and is about fifty feet above sea level in elevation; the Houston Heights area has the highest elevation in the city. The city once relied on groundwater for its water needs. Land subsidence forced the city to turn to ground-level water sources such as Lake Houston.

Hurricanes have slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast on numerous occasions; several have passed through Houston, 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; development of the 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 Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 caused billions of dollars in damages.

Flooding has proved to be an increasingly serious problem in Houston. Houston's worst contemporary flood was Tropical Storm Allison which passed through the city in June, 2001. Many neighborhoods have changed since the storm; older houses in some afflicted neighborhoods have been torn down and replaced with larger houses with larger foundations.

Houston's climate is often compared to that of Dallas, Texas. Dallas has a hot and dry climate while Houston has a hot and humid climate. While Dallas gets hotter temperatures, Houston's heat index is often higher.

Like many areas of Texas, Houston suffers from the Red Imported Fire Ant.


As of the census2 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/km (3,371.7/mi). There are 782,009 housing units at an average density of 521.1/km (1,349.6/mi). 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.

The Hispanic population in Houston is increasing as more and more from Latin countries try to find work in Houston. Hispanics make up a significant amount of the population. Houston has the third largest Hispanic population in the United States. People from Asian countries such as China, Korea, Japan, India, and Pakistan are also flocking to Houston. Houston has two Chinatowns, as well as the third largest Vietnamese population in the United States. Recent redevlopment of Midtown from run-down to upscale has increased property values and property taxes thus forcing the Vietnamese out of their current neigborhood into other areas. Houston has the second highest South African population in the United States, after Miami, Florida. Houston also boasts of having a population with a younger age than the national average.

In 2005, Men's Fitness magazine named Houston the fattest city in the U.S.

Metropolitan Area

San Jacinto Battleground State Park
The San Jacinto Battleground State Park, which commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto, is located in the suburb of Deer Park

The Inner City

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. Note that if these business districts were considered one, they would form the third largest in the United States. The city also has the third largest skyline, but because it is spread over a few miles, pictures of the city show, for the most part, the Downtown area.

The following are areas of the inner-city:

  • Downtown, the seventh largest business district in the country. The area is in the very center of the city's highway system.
    • The Skyline District is the heart of Downtown and home to many headquarters of various multinational businesses and financial institutions.
    • The Houston Theater District, in north Downtown, is home to Houston's eight performing arts organizations and includes the stages of the Alley Theater, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Wortham Center, Jones Hall and the Verizon Wireless Theatre (formerly Aerial Theater). Jones Hall is home to the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The Houston Theater District is the second largest performing arts district, next to the one in New York City.
    • There are two Chinatowns of Houston. The original one is in the eastern corridor of Downtown in the shadow of the George R. Brown Convention Center, while the newer (which originated around 1982), larger one resides primarily on Bellaire Boulevard in west of Houston's Sharpstown neighborhood.
    • The Main Street Corridor in Downtown is now a popular nightlife spot. This comes after its opening on January 1, 2004 and the opening of the light rail service.
  • The historic Houston Heights, near downtown, has the highest point of elevation in the city. Originally an incorporated city since 1891, it was consolidated into the City of Houston in 1919. To the present day, it retains a ban on liquor sales, and it is a popular area for antique shopping along the 19th Street corridor. Like the neighboring Montrose to the south of Interstate 10, the Houston Heights has long been a popular place for the artistic and gay and lesbian communities to live. The Heights has been experiencing gentrification as well due to its status as a historically-preserved community because of deed restriction enforcement. Many of the Victorian-era bungalows are in highly in demand, especially those that have been been remodeled. The Houston Heights is also home to the art car community - the current location of the Art Car Museum (140 Heights Blvd.) is a tourist attraction.
  • Midtown is southwest of Downtown and is a recently redeveloped area with many newly constructed trendy apartments and flats. It is also home to Little Saigon, the center of Vietnamese commerce and businesses.
  • Montrose is located west of downtown and Midtown and northwest of the Medical Center. It is the center of Houston's gay/lesbian community, and known for its vintage shops, 1950s-style eateries, and street art. This community was known for the Westheimer Street Festival - a community gathering which later fell victim to gentrification. It is also the location of the Menil Collection and the University of St. Thomas.
  • The Greenway Plaza business district is west of Midtown and southwest of Downtown Houston. This area is home to a few skyscrapers, as well as the Compaq Center, soon to be the Lakewood International Center.
  • River Oaks is a very affluent area, often compared to Beverly Hills. It is the wealthiest neighborhood in Texas, and is home to many celebrities and political figures. Though the area is between Downtown and the Uptown District, this neighborhood boasts of mansions, as opposed to the surrounding area's highrise apartments and lofts. Near and partially blending into River Oaks, the areas of Highland Village and Upper Kirby (UK) are home to many expensive and upscale shopping and dining venues.
  • Uptown Houston is primarily anchored by the Houston Galleria. It is the city's second largest business district and is home to the world-famous Williams Tower.The Uptown area is also known as the Galleria shopping district, as it is the center of Houston's fashion scene. This area is home to many high-end retailers, as well as local and national fashion designers.

Picture of the Texas Medical Center Skyline
  • The Texas Medical Center, about three miles (5 km) south of the Midtown area. This is the largest medical complex in the world. Bordering the Texas Medical Center are Reliant Park and Six Flags Astroworld to the south and the Rice University/Rice Village area to the north.
  • The Museum District contains over 16 institutions, Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo and the Miller Outdoor Theatre. It is one of the most visited museum districts in the country.
  • The six "Wards." Fourth Ward, which shares a zip code with River Oaks, historically has been among the poorest areas of the inner-city, but is undergoing extensive gentrification because of its proximity to Downtown. It was the prominent area of the African American community, but the Third Ward, home to Texas Southern University and the University of Houston's central campus, picked up the prominence after World War I. Fifth Ward is also a predominantly African-American community. Second Ward, located east of downtown, was developed in the roaring '20s. Stephen F. Austin High School depicts this art deco architecture. Second Ward is now made up of a predominantly Hispanic community. The First Ward has been torn down down in recent years as part of a gentrification effort. The area formerly known as Fourth Ward (also known as Freedmen's Town) is now Midtown. Houston's "Wards" got its name from political geographic districts when the city was established in 1836 - the ward designation is the progenitor of the current-day Houston City Council districts - there are nine districts within the Houston City Limits.
  • South Park is a large African American neighborhood that is demographically becoming predominantly Mexican-American. The neighborhood was made famous by the rapper South Park Mexican. Sunnyside is a predominantly African American community near South Park.
  • To the west is Memorial. The zip code within Memorial is the fourth wealthiest in the nation. It is the largest of a series of affluent municipalities separate but surrounded by the city of Houston known as the Villages, which include Hedwig Village, Bunker Hill Village, Hunters Creek Village, Piney Point Village, Hilshire Village, and Spring Valley. This area is often not considered a suburb, more so an area within central Houston.
  • To the southwest are several neighborhoods that sprang up in the years following World War II, when they were considered to be suburbs, such as Fondren Southwest (late 1970s), Meyerland (late 1950s), Sharpstown (early 1960s) and Westbury (late 1950s). Fondren Southwest and Meyerland are centers of Houston's Jewish community. As noted above, Sharpstown has a large Asian-American community. Westbury and Meyerland are becoming popular places for the artistic and gay and lesbian communities to live, as real estate in Montrose has become more expensive due to gentrification.
  • Acres Homes in Northwest Houston was once an independent community, but is now a part of Houston.

Zip codes in Houston range from 77002 to 77598.


  • Sugar Land is southwest of central Houston in Fort Bend County, and is named for the former Imperial Sugar refinery. It is currently the home to a number of international energy, software, and product firms. It also is one of the fastest growing and wealthiest cities in the state due to the First Colony master planned community.
  • The Woodlands is a large master-planned community about 40 miles (64 km) northwest of Downtown. This is one of the largest and most popular master-planned communities in the country.
  • The Clear Lake area is a southeast suburb of Houston. It is home to NASA and a very large Asian-American community. Formerly, the combined area was officially Clear Lake City, but part of this area was annexed into Houston. League City, just south of this area, is home to a few water-side resorts.
The Fred Hartman Bridge connects Baytown and La Porte.
  • Farther west, about 30 minutes from Downtown, is the city of Katy. This area has grown farther out from the Downtown area than most suburbs have.
  • Deer Park in the southeast area is home to the San Jacinto Monument. The surrounding area, including the larger city of Pasadena and cities of Baytown, La Porte and Channelview are filled with refineries and chemical plants.
  • The Kingwood/Humble area is in the northeast part of town.

A popular day trip may include Galveston where people can visit Moody Gardens or visit a nearby beach. Before near destruction in 1900 Galveston was the larger and wealthier of the two cities and dubbed "The Wall Street of the Southwest", and was on par with New Orleans as the Gulf Coast's premier city. The city's vulnerability on a narrow barrier bar island led to the creation of the mainland Houston Ship Channel made by the dredging of shallow Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay to form a protected port some 40 miles (64 km) inland of the open Gulf and less than 10 miles (16 km) from Houston's central business district. Beach houses owned by Houstonians have sprung up in other cities along the shoreline to the Gulf of Mexico. Another tourist hot spot is Kemah where visitors see the Kemah Boardwalk, which has many seafood restaurants and local tourist attractions. Kemah is surrounded by Galveston Bay to the east and Clear Lake (a brackish-water boater's paradise with open pass through to Galveston Bay) to the west.

Locations in Houston are generally classified as either being inside or outside Interstate 610, known as the 610 Loop which include the Central business district and the 'island' cities of West University (West U.), and Southside Place, and a portion of Bellaire. The outlying areas of Houston, as well as the rest of Bellaire, the airports and the suburbs and enclaves are outside the loop. Another ring road, Beltway 8 (also known simply as the "Beltway"), encircles the city another 5 miles (8 km) further out. Yet a third - the "Grand Parkway", has begun construction roughly 10 miles (16 km) beyond that around the outer suburbs and currently extends from Katy to Sugar Land.

Locations within the Houston city limits that are inside the 610 Loop traditionally used the 713 area code. Those outside the 610 Loop that are within the city limits normally receive the 281 or 832 area code. However, the geographic division between 713, 281, and 832 has been eliminated, and newly issued phone numbers (especially for cell phones and fax machines) within that zone may be assigned any of the three codes. Areas far north, west, east and south of the inner-city also use 936 and/or 409.

The Space Center Houston Visitor Center for the

The Space Center Houston Visitor Center for the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center

The towns of Kingwood, Alief and Clear Lake City have recently been annexed by the city of Houston, increasing the city limit's population.

For a full list of the cities in the Houston area, see:

  • Brazoria County
  • Chambers County
  • Fort Bend County
  • Galveston County
  • Harris County
  • Liberty County
  • Montgomery County


The first line of the light rail system has been opened. In this picture, a MetroRail train is approaching a station in Downtown Houston, Texas


Houston's size and lack of zoning have contributed to decentralization, or urban sprawl, which, combined with the humidity and hot summers, has made the automobile the favored means of transportation. This dependence on cars causes various pollution problems, including excessive ozone levels. Houston is ranked among the most ozone-polluted cities in the United States.

Houston freeways are heavily traveled and often being reconstructed to meet the demands of continuing growth. I-45 South has been in a continuous state of construction, in one portion or another, almost since the first segment was built in 1952. City planners have been running experiments to reduce traffic congestion at rush hour. As in Los Angeles, the primary method currently in use is the 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 unusual characteristic of Houston's freeways are its service (or "feeder") roads. Alongside most freeways are two to four lanes parallel to the freeway permitting easy access to individual city streets. The service roads make freeway access very easy, but due to their visibility to passing traffic, they have attracted most of Houston's gas stations and major retail stores. New landscaping projects and a longstanding ban on new billboards are two ways that Houston is trying to back away from this side effect of convenience.

Houston has a hub-and-spoke freeway structure with multiple loops. The innermost is Interstate 610, forming approximately a 10 mile (16 km) diameter loop around downtown. The roughly square "Loop-610" is quartered into "North Loop," "South Loop," "West Loop," and "East Loop." The roads of Beltway 8 and their freeway core, the Sam Houston Tollway, are the next loop, at a diameter of roughly 25 miles (40 km). Most of this freeway requires payment of $1 or more toll every five or ten miles (8 or 16 km). A controversial proposed (and partly completed) highway project, State Highway 99 (named Grand Parkway by proponents and Grand Porkway by opponents) would form a third loop.

The spokes proceed in all directions away from downtown Houston. Here are some of the major routes: Going north on Interstate 45 leads to Dallas, Texas and Fort Worth. I-45 continues southeast directly to its terminus at Galveston, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. Interstate 10 westbound leads to San Antonio, Texas, and eastbound leads to New Orleans, Louisiana and Baton Rouge. U.S. Highway 290 provides a direct route northwest to Austin, Texas. The Southwest Freeway (U.S. 59) is a major freeway leading to the southwest suburbs in Fort Bend County of Sugar Land, Missouri City, Richmond, and Rosenberg and ultimately to the Mexican border about 300 miles (500 k

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