It's a convention and visitor bureau's nightmare. A reporter for a national magazine in town to research a story about the "new" Houston and document how the city is reinventing itself for the 21st century gets robbed. The thieves even take his wedding ring, although it is hard to remove. "It's amazing what you can do at gunpoint," he writes.
That's what happened to Tony Perrottet, whose extensive article about Houston appears in the current issue of Smithsonian magazine. And despite the near-death experience, Perrottet has a lot of good things to say about life in the Bayou City, citing its thriving arts scene, lesbian mayor, libertarian spirit, exotic cuisine and home-spun creativity.
"Clearly, a lot more is happening in Houston—nicknamed The Big Heart after the city and its people aided Hurricane Katrina victims—than concrete freeways."
"Clearly, a lot more is happening in Houston—nicknamed The Big Heart after the city and its people aided Hurricane Katrina victims—than concrete freeways," he writes.
In "What Makes Houston the Next Great American City," Perrottet also recounts his harrowing hold-up in The Heights, which he describes as "a gritty but recently gentrified neighborhood," where two men with a gun took his cell phone, wallet, car keys, loose coins and business cards in addition to his wedding ring.
"Later, when I mentioned this to locals, they were amused. Of course it was real! This is Houston. Everyone's got a gun,' " he writes.
And he points out a disturbing Pew Research Center study showing that Houston is the most income-segregated of the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and research that indicates the new wave of immigrants are split between highly skilled college graduates and poorly educated manual laborers. Rice sociologist and Kinder Institute for Urban Research co-director Stephen Klineberg tells him:
The great danger for the future of America is not an ethnic divide but class divide. And Houston is on the front line, where the gulf between rich and poor is widest. We have the Texas Medical Center, the finest medical facility in the world, but we also have the highest percentage of kids without health care. The inequality is so clear here.” All these forces add urgency to how Houston tackles its problems. “This is where America’s future is going to be worked out.”
Perrottet's interest in Houston was piqued by a Kinder Institute study that shows that of the nation's 10 largest metro areas, Houston has the most equitable distribution of the nation’s four major racial and ethnic groups (Asians, Hispanic people, and white and black people who are not Hispanic).
Despite the mugging, Perrottet doesn't take cheap shots at the city like many national writers do. Instead he seems intrigued by Houston as a magnet for immigrants and successful minorities (he profiles Chloe Dao, Farouk Shami, Hugo Ortega and Rick Lowe) and a harbinger of the nation's future — something those of us who have lived here for a while already know.