Houston, Texas


Houston, Texas
Missing image

Flag Seal

Location in the state of Texas
City nickname: "Space City"
CountiesHarris County
Fort Bend County
Montgomery County
MayorBill White
 - Total
 - Water

1,558.4 km² (601.7 mi²)
57.7 km² (22.3 mi²) 3.70%

 - City (2003)
 - Metropolitan

 - Density


Time zoneCentral: UTC-6


29°40' N
95°18' W

City of Houston website (http://www.houstontx.gov)

The City of Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and one of the two largest economic areas in the state of Texas. 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.

Houston is one of the newest and fastest growing major cities in the United States. In 1900, the population in Houston was approximately 45,000 and it was the 85th largest town in the United States. As of the U.S. Census 2000, the city had a total population of 1,953,631, but a July 1, 2003, U.S. Census estimate placed the city's population at 2,009,690. In 2003, there were 5,075,733 people living in the ten counties of the Houston—Sugar Land—Baytown Metropolitan Area, the eighth largest metropolitan area in the United States.



The city of Houston was incorporated in 1837. Today, the city limits cover about 600 square miles (1,600 km²) in area, and it's also the largest city in the United States which does not have zoning laws.

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

Houston is home to many institutions of higher learning such as the University of Houston, which is Texas' premier metropolitan extensive research university and also the flagship institution of the University of Houston System. Houston is also home to Rice University, a well known private institution which boasts one of the largest financial endowments of any university in the world. Other major institutions of higher learning in Houston include University of Saint Thomas, Houston Baptist University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of Houston-Downtown, and Texas Southern University.

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, was the home to the Super Bowl VIII, and Super Bowl XXXVIII was played at the Reliant Stadium in February 2004.

In 2005, Men's Fitness magazine named Houston the fattest city in the U.S. The city has also the recipient of this award in years prior, including 2001, 2002, and 2003. Methodology for determining for the 2005 status included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's survey which listed 23% of Houston residents as clinically obese, as well as other less serious statistics, such as Houston having twice the number of donut shops per capita compared to the national average.


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. 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.
  • 1904 - Houston Lyceum and Carnegie Library opens, later known as Houston Public Library.
  • 1912 - The Rice Institute opens, later known as Rice University.
  • 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.
  • 1927 - Houston Junior College opens its doors as part of Houston Independent School District.
  • 1934 - Houston Junior College becomes a four-year institution and changes its name to the University of Houston.
  • 1937 - Houston Municipal Airport, which would later become William P. Hobby Airport, is opened.
  • 1939 - The University of Houston moves to its permanent location, southeast of Downtown.
  • 1945 - The University of Houston separates from HISD and becomes a private university.
  • 1948 - The Gulf Freeway opens as U.S. Highway 75 and signals the beginning of freeway construction in the city.
  • 1959 - Sharpstown Mall opens and is the first indoor air-conditioned mall in the world.
  • 1963 - The University of Houston ends its status as a private institution and becomes a state university by entering into the Texas State System of Higher Education after a long battle with opponents from other state universities blocking the change.
  • 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 such as New York and Pennsylvania move into Houston.
  • 1977 - The University of Houston celebrates its 50th anniversary as the Texas Legislature establishes the University of Houston System, a state system of higher education that includes three other universities.
  • 1978 - The headquarters of Continental Airlines move to Houston after buying out Texas International.
  • 1978-1980 - Traffic signal signage at major intersections were improved. Houston is the first in the nation to modernize their signage, which is still done to this present day.
  • 1979 - a portion of the master-planned community of "Clear Lake City" that is in Houston's extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and an area east of Missouri City in Fort Bend County are annexed into the corporate limits of 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.
  • 1985 - The University of Houston changes its name to the University of Houston-University Park to separate its identity and confusion with the other three universities within the UH System.
  • 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.
  • 1988 - The University of Houston-University Park reverts its name back to the University of Houston after much controversy with the name change in 1985 in order to separate its identity and confusion with the other three universities in the UH System.
  • July 9-11, 1990 - Houston hosts the 16th G7 Summit
  • April 1993 - The Westheimer Colony Art Festival is held on a stretch of Calhoun Road (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 master-planned community of Kingwood is annexed by the city of 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 council member.
  • 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.
  • 2002 - The University of Houston celebrates its 75th anniversary with an enrollment of 34,443 that fall semester. At the same time, the University of Houston System celebrates its 25th anniversary with an enrollment of over 54,000.
  • 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 council member 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.
  • July 30, 2004 - The Houston City Council unanimously votes for a change in the curbside parking ordinance where Saturday metered parking is enforced. The original proposal for paid curbside parking between 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. was not popular with Downtown-area restaurant owners. The ordinance took effect on October 22, 2004.
  • 2004 - Houston hosts the Super Bowl as well as the MLB 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 's   satellite.
A simulated-color satellite image of Houston, Texas, 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 3.70% 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 prairie, all of which can still be seen in surrounding areas. Average yearly precipitation levels range from 36 to 48 inches. 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 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.


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Houston has twice the number of donut shops per capita compared to the national average.

As of the censusTemplate:GR 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.

The Hispanic population in Houston is increasing as more and more people 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 Asia such as China, South Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam have been immigrating to Houston. 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 thus forcing the Vietnamese American out of their current neighborhood 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.

People and culture of Houston

The Williams Waterwall, which is adjacent to the .
The Williams Waterwall, which is adjacent to the Williams Tower.
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Fountain at Tranquility Park in Downtown

Like many other large cities in the United States, Houston is a very diverse city with a variety of different ethnic groups. About 90 languages are spoken in the area. In some neighborhoods, street signs are seen in Chinese and Vietnamese.

Because the Houston—Sugar Land—Baytown and the Dallas—Fort Worth—Arlington metropolitan areas are both the major economic centers of the state, they enjoy a friendly rivalry. Houstonians often consider themselves more "down to earth" than their neighbors to the north. 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, and the only city in which eating out is cheaper than Houston is New Orleans, Louisiana.

Several Houston-based restaurants, such as 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 notable diner near the Montrose area.

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 or referred to locally as simply "screw." Many young Houstonians of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds who were in touch with the local hip-hop culture may remember the advent of this form of Southern rap which began to take place around late 1999.

See also:

Metropolitan area

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Houston Skyline District
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Sam Houston monument in the Museum District
Picture of the  Skyline
Picture of the Uptown Houston Skyline
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Williams Tower of Uptown Houston
Picture of the Texas Medical Center Skyline
Picture of the Texas Medical Center Skyline

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 in the United States (after New York City and Chicago, Illinois), 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. Off of Main Street and Interstate 10, at the beginining of the light rail, is the University of Houston-Downtown.
  • The historic Houston Heights, near downtown, has the highest point of elevation in the city. Like the smaller Woodland Heights neighborhood just to its east, it was originally a separate, independent suburb connected to Houston by streetcar. It was Incorporated in 1891 and consolidated into the city of Houston in 1919. To the present day it retains a ban on liquor sales and 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 houses and Craftsman bungalows are in high 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 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 American 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 and 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 Saint 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 an 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 are home to many high-end 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.
  • 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". Houston's "Wards" got its name from political geographic districts when the city was established in 1837 - the ward designation is the progenitor of the current-day Houston City Council districts - there are nine districts within the Houston city limits.
    • First Ward has been torn down down in recent years as part of a gentrification effort.
    • 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.
    • Third Ward, southeast of Downtown, is the location of the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. The tallest structure in Third Ward is the Moody Towers, an 18-story twin tower on the University of Houston campus. The African American community in this area picked up the prominence after World War I.
    • Fourth Ward, the first African American community in Houston, 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; this community had the Allen Parkway Village housing project - which was redeveloped into the Historic Oaks at Allen Parkway Village.
    • Fifth Ward is another predominantly African American community.
  • To the west is the Memorial Area. The zip code within Memorial, 77024, 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 communities that sprang up in the years following World War II, when they were considered to be suburbs, such as Fondren Southwest, Meyerland, Sharpstown, and Westbury. Fondren Southwest and Meyerland are centers of Houston's Jewish community. As noted above, Sharpstown has a large Asian American community and was the first master-planned community in Houston. Westbury and Meyerland are becoming popular places for some of the artistic and gay and lesbian communities to live, as real estate in Montrose has become more expensive due to gentrification.

Zip codes in Houston range from 77002 to 77099. However, a small portion of northeast Houston has the zip codes of 77339 and 77345.

Suburbs and other cities

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Suburban life in Sugar Land
  • Sugar Land is a city southwest of Houston in northeast 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 numerous master-planned communities in the area, such as First Colony, New Territory, Greatwood, Sugar Creek, Sugar Lakes, Avalon, and Riverstone to name a few. Sugar Land is now a principal city of the Houston—Sugar Land—Baytown Metropolitan Area.
The Fred Hartman Bridge connects Baytown and La Porte.
The Fred Hartman Bridge connects Baytown and La Porte.
  • Katy is about 30 minutes west of Downtown. This area has grown farther out from the Downtown area than most suburbs have.
  • The KingwoodHumble area is in the northeast part of town and part of this portion area is in Montgomery County. It is home to the 14,000-acre master-planned community of Kingwood.

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.

San Jacinto Battleground State Park, which commemorates the , is located in the city of .
San Jacinto Battleground State Park, which commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto, is located in the city of Deer Park.

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.

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



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Interstate 45 as it traverses Downtown Houston
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Freeway and skyline of Downtown Houston
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Allen Parkway, Houston's one of two "superstreets".

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. 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 (TX DOT) planners have been running experiments to reduce traffic congestion at rush hour. 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 frontage roads. Alongside most freeways are two to four lanes in each direction parallel to the freeway permitting easy access to individual city streets. The frontage 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 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 Parkway, are the next loop, at a diameter of roughly 25 miles. Most of this freeway requires payment of $1 or more toll every five or ten miles. A controversial proposed highway project, Texas Highway 99, would form a third loop outside of Houston. Currently, the completed portion of Texas Highway 99 runs from just north of Interstate 10 east of Katy in Harris County to Sugar Land in Fort Bend County at U.S. Highway 59 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.

For a road map of Houston, click here (http://www.soulofamerica.com/images/maps/houston_map.jpeg)

List of major highways

Residents often refer to Freeways and Tollways by their names instead of numbers.

  • Beltway 8 - Sam Houston Parkway (Beltway 8 refers to the frontage road)
  • Interstate 10 - Katy Freeway (to west) / Baytown East Freeway (to east)
  • Interstate 45 - North Freeway (to north) / Gulf Freeway (to southeast)
  • Interstate 610 - North Loop, South Loop, West Loop, and East Loop
  • U.S. Highway 59 - Southwest Freeway to southwest / Eastex Freeway to northeast
  • U.S. Highway 90 - Beaumont Highway
  • U.S. Highway 90A - South Main St. (Houston's first and only "mini-freeway")
  • U.S. Highway 290 - Northwest Freeway, Hempstead Highway
  • Texas Highway 99 - Grand Parkway
  • Texas Highway 122 - Fort Bend Parkway
  • Texas Highway 225 - Pasadena Freeway, LaPorte Freeway
  • Texas Highway 249 - Tomball Parkway
  • Texas Highway 288 - South Freeway, Nolan Ryan Expressway

Mass transit

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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

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. The city got the METRORail, a light rail service, on January 1, 2004. It runs 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 all along the central Houston area, including Uptown. METRO hopes to expand the Light Rail to the 2 major airports, as well as the Bay Area, Katy, Spring and along the Southwest Freeway. This is Texas's second major light rail service, after DART's light rail service in Dallas, Texas. Although now only about 8 miles (13 km) long a long term plan is being developed for several more much longer line segments connecting diverse corners of the metropolitan area.

Two METRORail cars - #101 and #102 - are the only METRO vehicles with dedication plaques to former mayor Lee P. Brown and former METRO chairwoman Shirley DeLibero.


Houston is served by George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and William P. Hobby Airport (HOU).

Bush Airport handles all of the city's international traffic. Hobby has a lot of the intra-United States traffic that is headed for downtown, southern Houston, Galveston, and the southern suburbs; it also handles all flights by Southwest Airlines from Houston.

The only passenger traffic that Ellington Field (EFD) ever handled consists of passengers going to and from Galveston County flying to Bush Airport to reduce travel time to that said airport. Passenger flights ended on September 7, 2004. Ellington Field is in danger of closing down, as of February 2004.

To the southwest of Houston, in Sugar Land, is the Sugar Land Regional Airport (SGR), formerly Sugar Land Municipal Airport. Sugar Land Regional Airport is the fourth largest airport in the Houston—Sugar Land—Baytown Metropolitan Area, and the only general reliever airport in the southwest sector. The airport mostly serves corporate, governmental, and private clienteles, while it is owned and operated by the City of Sugar Land. A new 20,000 SF Terminal and a 60-acre GA Complex, are currently under construction, with the Terminal completion expected in Spring 2006.


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Houston Industries Plaza

Houston has had several growth spurts in relation to the Texas oil industry. 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.

Houston became a major port as a result of the downfall of Galveston and the rise of the Houston Ship Channel. The 1920s had Houston's first growth spurt.

The city's second growth spurt occurred in the late 1970s, with the Arab Oil Embargo. Demand on Texas oil increased, and many people from the northeast came down to profit from the trade. When the embargo was lifted, the growth stopped. However, Pasadena still has its refineries, and the Port of Houston is among the busiest in the world. Houston has attempted to build a banking industry in the city, but all of the companies which had been started in Houston were merged with other companies nationwide. It still is vital to the region, but most of the banks operating there are not based in Houston. Real Estate is also a large business in the Houston area, and NASA's presence in the city's southeast side has provided an additional economic boost.

Houston is unique in being the largest American city without zoning regulations.

The city has the second lowest cost of living in comparison to other major U.S. cities, and the housing in Houston is among the most affordable in the Nation.

See also:

Government and politics

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Houston City Hall

Law and government

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 first term. A mayor, who is the executive branch of the city government, can be elected consecutively for three terms.

City Council members, who make up the legislative branch, are elected from nine districts in the city, along with five at-large positions. At-large council members represent the entire city, as well as collaborate with district council members in response to district concerns.

Local municipal government in the City of Houston is considered as a home-rule city, and members of city council and the Controller's position are nonpartisan.


The City of Houston has been enforcing the 3-term rule since November 1991 after a referendum passed. 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 either as a Democrat or Republican once their term expires. Controller Annise Parker is the only ex-council member who ran for a nonpartisan office.

There are several issues brought up in the Houston area with term limits - during Mayor Lee Brown's final term in office, he refers to term limits as a dis-service for elected officials since incumbents do not gain the needed experience in city government. A proposal to amend the Houston city charter where the current 2-year term will be amended to 4 years in office has been debated. As of 2005, several candidates for the Houston City Council have brought up the issue of whether term limits should be amended or eliminated.

See also:

Education and scientific research

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Houston is served by the University of Houston System, the largest urban state system of higher education in the Gulf Coast, which has four universities with three located in Houston. Their flagship institution is the University of Houston, the only doctoral degree granting extensive research institution in Houston and is the third largest in the state of Texas with an enrollment of over 35,000. The interdisciplinary research conducted at UH breaks new ground in such vital areas as superconductivity, space commercialization, biomedical engineering, economics, education, petroleum exploration and management. UH is also home to over forty research centers and institutes. Amongst the most prestigious of the University of Houston's colleges is the University of Houston Law Center (law school). The UH Law Center's Health Law and Policy Institute is ranked number one in the nation while the Intellectual Property Law Program is ranked fifth, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Houston is the location of a well known prestigious private institution of Rice University, which boasts the largest financial endowment of any university in the world.

Houston is world renowned for health and medicine research facilities located in the Medical Center such as the Baylor College of Medicine and many others.

Other alternative of higher learning includes the Houston Community College System, which has several campuses around Houston to serve all areas and is one of the largest community college system in the United States.

See also:

List of colleges and universities

Media and entertainment

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Bayou Place in Downtown

Houston has a variety of newspapers, with the Houston Chronicle (which is the only major daily newspaper in Houston receiving wide distribution) being read all across the South-Central United States. Houston also is home to the TV stations and radio stations that serve the metro area.

ABC-13 KTRK TV's Wayne Dolcefino released a controversial report that allegedly showed bad business practices of a charity called "Kid Care". Since then, the charity's donations dwindled, leaving the owner fuming. The station also employs Marvin Zindler, whose week-long expos on the Chicken Ranch brothel later became the basis for the Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

KHOU-TV's team of "Defenders" began and lead a national investigation on the failure of Firestone Wilderness AT tires in several vehicles. 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. It's "en su defensa" (In Your Defense) segments have garnered regional acclaim, and En Su Defensa month was proclaimed by Mayor Bill White in 2004.

See also:

Professional sports

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Picture of the Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome
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Minute Maid Park in Downtown Houston

Professional sports teams

Houston is home to several professional sports franchises. Here is a list of teams with the league they are a part of and the venue the play in:

See also:

Sports facilities

External links




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See also: List of Texas counties

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