Houston, give yourselves a socially distanced air high five. We just completed one of the most enthralling, life-altering, and emotionally draining years in this city’s history. In 2010 we couldn’t fathom what 2020 would have looked like. Then there's everything in between: The humbling losses, the giddy moments of triumph, and the people and places that we would lose and gain along the way.
This past decade we saw Houston enter the conversation as one of the world's finest examples of cultural diversity. As businesses flocked to our humid home, we put our best foot forward, showing off our effortless hospitality and filling guests with the food and drink we had to offer. Sure, it costs more to live here now and our A/C bills aren’t getting any lower, but we’re still trying to make Houston worth it. As we ease into a fresh new year and really get started on this decade, we're taking a look back at the ways this city has changed and how far we've come—because of some people and in spite of others—over the past 10 years.
Fresh sports idols have emerged, like JJ Watt, James Harden, Jose Altuve, and Simone Biles. That has had its drawbacks, of course: cellar-dwelling campaigns, learning-curve seasons, injury-plagued rosters, and one smudged and frayed World Series that we’re still trying to come to terms with. (It meant the world to us, a town still trying to dry itself out after the soggy devastation of Hurricane Harvey, but who here will ever look at a dugout trashcan without thinking about the 'Stros ever again?)
So yeah, H-Town sports domination produced a new slate of heroes, but it also led to some disappointing moments, including every single time Watt put on a Texans jersey and then almost immediately got injured, again. Biles, at least, still has enough Olympic gold to plate a Chevy Silverado with.
Chefs and bar owners became the new athletes and rock stars. Each new dish or cocktail a new song. A new restaurant was a new album. We lined up for hours for barbecue, argued over taco prices, drank countless craft beers, and spent way too much money on brussels sprouts.
If we had a dime for every national dining list that Houston restaurants have landed on, we could probably afford to get that extra dessert at insert-this-week’s-hip-restaurant-here. And the purveyors of these culinary delights are stars in their own right. Hell, if you spot Chris Shepherd out and about it's almost as exciting as seeing Altuve. That's right, these culinary geniuses are now ranking with sports stars in Space City. Maybe in the next decade Harden will have to wait while Shepherd gets the best table at the newest posh eatery.
It's been a busy time in Houston for professional politickers, with a host of issues, controversies, disasters, and media stunts grabbing regular national headlines while a whole new cast of heroes and villains (who is who depends on how you vote, admittedly) has taken the stage. Over the decade, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz pulled their stunts. Their hijinks have ensured that H-Town would get national media notice for all of the wrong reasons, including the most recent bids of Patrick offering rewards for any evidence of voter fraud (Patrick still hasn't been given anything to pay up on, by the way), alongside the political theater classics like Cruz giving that infamous reading of Green Eggs and Ham during a fake filibuster on the Senate Floor. (Yeah, that happened in this decade. Surreal, isn't it?)
At the same time, the Dems have had their fun as well, with U.S. Rep. Al Green guaranteeing himself coverage every time he called for President Donald Trump's impeachment, and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee doing what she does best and always being on hand for the cameras. Meanwhile, former Mayor Annise Parker found herself at the center of national culture wars during her failed bid to pass HERO, while Mayor Sylvester Turner got us through Harvey and has now been getting us through the pandemic while making dad jokes. Then there's that ongoing bit about how he could totally do the Spanish language version of the almost daily press conferences if he wanted to, but that he doesn't want to show off. Essentially, Houston has seldom been out of the national media spotlight, for better or—sometimes, and let's face it, mostly—for worse.
Whether the Weather
Mother Nature couldn’t help but weigh in with some 60 inches of madness to show us just how much of a heart we could have for one another. She didn’t know who she was dealing with and she’s going to test us again and again. If we remember who we were during those soggy weeks in 2017, we can’t lose.
The Soundtrack of the City
Even though for a time there it felt like the new hit song in Houston was the whine and wail of the emergency broadcast system, we've had the likes of The Suffers, Robert Ellis, and Khruangbin to drown out some of the less-joyful noise. And we're also now the city that can boast of producing Megan Thee Stallion, Travis Scott, and Lizzo and her amazing flute.
A decade ago, a lot of people who thought they knew things around here claimed that Houston's music scene was dead as a doornail. You'll notice that nobody tries to say that these days. Once we get through this pandemic and the scene starts up again, we can't wait to see what else this town comes up with. Austin may be the live music capital of the world, but you'll notice that it wasn't Austin that produced Lizzo.
Big Business and Big Growing Pains
Corporate America continues to come to Houston, setting up shop and beckoning transplants to bathe in sweat and low taxes. We’re learning new ways to make the city shine, but some of us still pine for simpler times and the creature discomforts that made being a Houstonian a badge of honor. How do we split the difference between the city our parents knew during the Urban Cowboy days and House of Ho? Nobody knows yet, but we're going to have to settle in and just deal with this one, because it looks like they're just going to keep coming. And if even Harvey's floodwaters weren't enough to scare the newest takers away, then we'll have to make peace with being a place where even non-energy companies want to set up shop.
Pandemic on the Bayou
So as this December draws to a close, we're fully wrapping up what has been a heady, unpredictable, changeable span of years, as well as one of the hardest years most people around the world have collectively seen when the clock strikes midnight on Thursday night. And as 2020 has reminded us all continuously, there's still a lot of work to be done.
As 2021 begins, we still have rising Covid-19 numbers, increasing financial uncertainty across the board, inequity, and growing food lines in parking lots. Our first challenge is, of course, the pandemic: A city on fire with inspiration now has some residents fighting for air. Even though we have the Texas Medical Center in our backyard, we can all do our part to make that place a little less busy.
From there, we need to start looking for ways to make our systems more fair, to ensure that it isn't just those at the top of the ladder who prosper here. After all, the ability for anyone to come here and find a great house, a good job, and to build a life is one of the secret reasons we, the old timers, love this town so much. It's a place with mosquitos and floods, yes, but also with possibilities.
So What’s Next?
We’re entering a new decade and have many decisions to make. What’s the next trick up our sweaty sleeves? What do we do now that we have the world’s attention? How do we keep intact what made us so special? And, most crucially, when can we finally seal the city in an air-conditioned dome?
Okay, so we know we shouldn't hold our breath on that one. But what will define us for the next 10 years is up to all of us. The communal spirit that got us here—through the dazzle of becoming nationally acknowledged as a cool town, but also through the floods, the explosions, the protests, the loss, the painful difficulties we've had to face together—in the first place should be our saving grace, along with fresh inclusive ideas and that grimy authenticity we constantly brag about. A new high-rise, mid-rise, or corporate headquarters won't matter when our most vulnerable are suffering, and you can't feed people with internet cred. We have always prided ourselves on our grit, but none of that matters if we're not humming the same song. There is power in that Houston head nod, so as this new span of years opens up for us, let's make sure we're nodding in time to the same beat. Or, you know, just being cool, H-Town style.
Wear a mask, shop small, hold open doors for the old folks, and look after your neighbors. And for God's sake, let a stranger merge in front of you on the freeway. The cost of living is definitely rising but the last time we checked, it’s still free to be kind.