A few years back, a pregnant woman posted a curious and to my mind wholly unobjectionable question on that peerless source of wisdom and taste known as Yahoo Answers. In hopes of finding a suitable name with which to christen her as-yet unborn daughter, the woman queried her fellow Yahoos thus: “Do you like the name Galleria?”
The reaction was as immediate as it was scorching. One tastemaker said it reminded her of diarrhea. To another, the name carried an uncomfortable resemblance to genitalia. A third said it sounded like an STD, and still another dismissed every name ending in R-I-A: “I effin think those names suck balls and are annoying.”
My guess is that “Galleria” is not how the world eventually came to know this woman’s child, which I suppose is a good thing. Still, the manner in which the idea was dismissed ought to disturb all Houstonians. Think of it. The Galleria is the Bayou City’s most popular tourist destination, which is to say that the Galleria is how the world comes to know us, which could be why much of the world thinks of us as an annoying, ball-sucking, diarrheic STD of a metropolis.
Now, there are times when I think of us the same way, admittedly, usually on the Pierce Elevated at 5:30 of a weekday. But at least I have a reason, unlike the fly-in/fly-out types for whom Houston is defined as a mall and a mall is defined as the antichrist. You know who I’m talking about: creative class types, latter-day Jane Jacobses, writers for The Atlantic. These are people who wouldn’t last five minutes in a Yahoo forum; and yet, whenever someone asks the question, “Do you like Houston?” they win Best Answer every time.
The problem with those self-styled experts is that they are engaged in psycho-urban displacement of a most destructive sort, confusing their own lost childhoods for ours. Let’s be honest. Did we have an urban core worth saving? Where is the beloved centuries-old gathering place where unkempt villagers brought their produce to market, its stalls overrun by rats and Émile Zola novels? Ours is not a dehumanizing, late capitalist cathedral of glass, steel, and ice built atop a proud legacy of raw sewage and toothless merchants gossiping in the town square. Our dehumanizing cathedral of glass, steel and ice was built atop … prairie.
In short, we had nothing to lose. To those who would dare claim that the Galleria despoiled the Westheimer prairies, I ask, did we need more prairie? And to those who would have us long for the way we never were, I ask, have you read Jung’s The Psychology of Transference? Houston, through no fault of its own, is at the beginning of history, not the end. Just as Milanese architect Giuseppe Mengoni had to become pregnant with the idea of the original Galleria for it to happen, Houston had to wait for air conditioning. And if Mengoni’s progeny was a jaw-dropping public space and ours neither jaw-dropping nor public, do we not love it just the same? I effin think so.