Southern Texas: What Makes Downtown Houston a Better Place to Live As the City Undergoes Historically Ethnic and Cultural Changes?

Welcome to Downtown Houston, Texas - a big southern city located in Harris County in the Lone Star State

There’s an old historical saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas.” The phrase doesn’t just refer to big hats, cowboys, big oil money, Cadillacs, big hair, nor big attitude. What makes Texas big is its size. Texas has an enormous geographical area with a total of 268,820 square miles, ranking behind Alaska in terms of size. The Texas economy is the second-largest GDP (gross domestic Products) behind California, with a gross state product of $1.887 trillion as of 2019.

Smithsonian Magazine once reported, ‘As Houston undergoes an ethnic and cultural transformation, its reputation grows as a place where people can dream big and succeed.’

Popular nicknames have been given to Houston Texas, names like “H-town,” Bayou City, Space City, 713, or “Clutch City.” The population of Houston averages between 3.5 to 4 million citizens. It has become a global city with unsurpassed prestige in diversified culture, medicine, and research. Houston is also a leader in the healthcare sectors and building oilfield equipment.

Known in the business world as the second most Fortune 500 Company headquarters of any U.S. municipality behind New York, The Port of Houston ranks first in the U.S. in international waterborne tonnage handled, and second in total cargo tonnage. International trade directly or indirectly supports more than one-third of all jobs in the Houston metropolitan area.

Millions of visitors worldwide travel to Houston’s NASA Johnson-Space Center at 1601 NASA Parkway to experience the thrill of seeing images of real-life in orbit. Space Center Houston is one of the only places on earth where visitors can watch astronauts train for missions, touch a real moon rock and take a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA. The eyes of the world were riveted on TV on June 20, 1969, when Astronaut Neil Armstrong excitedly reported from the surface of the Lunar Module “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” With those words, Neil Armstrong and four other astronauts became the first of the firsts to land on the moon.

Houston’s stunning growth of high-volume immigration has turned the city into one of the utmost racially and ethnically diverse major metropolises in the country, matching New York’s diverse population.

In December 2019, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner labeled Houston as the most diverse city in the United States. However, Turner adds, “Diversity alone is not enough we must always strive to be more inclusive. To celebrate Houston’s diversity, Turner unveiled 60 ‘welcome signs’ across the city at airports, libraries, convention centers, and libraries that read, “Welcome to Houston-the most diverse city in American.”

Houston Mayor Turner
Houston Mayor Turner

Main Street Square

Main Street Square is built between two Metro Rail stations between the 900 and 1100 block of Main Street in the epicenter of Downtown Houston that resembles a patchwork of arteries pointing in various directions consisting of large and small public spaces. Cordial train drivers transport thousands of passengers daily; this light rail system runs on the tracks alongside a glittering waterfall – with ’13 fountain jets’ shooting water 40 feet into the air on both sides of the train as ’39 smaller jets’ animate the perimeter of the pool.

Houston downtown restaurants are bursting at the seams with ethnic-inspired cuisines that range from healthy eats on-the-go to celebrity chef destination dining. Metro Rail is a convenient way for Houstonians or visitors to travel downtown, to Midtown, Museum District, Texas Medical Center, Herman Zoo, NRG Center, Moody Park, and up to Northline Transit Center. See these Travel Tips.

downtown houston metro rail. Photo Credit: City of Houston Culture.
Metro rail train travels through the Heart of Downtown Houston’s Main Street Square. Photo Credit: City of Houston Culture.

Moving Down to Texas Where Life Began For a Reporter and Investigative Journalist

Texas ranks among the fastest-growing states in the U.S., and for good reasons; an affordable cost of living, temperate weather, promising job market, and bustling activities throughout the Lone Star State has made Houston a win for newcomers, especially a country boy like (me) who only made $1.60 per hour as a Livestock Auction Sale Barn worker.

As a former resident of Southeast Arkansas near Delta Mississippi-I moved to Houston during the city’s 1970’s boomtown oil era. Looking back I made the right decision.

Houston is a fabulous, adventurous city surrounded by four prominent bayous; Buffalo Bayou flows into downtown and the Houston Ship Channel while Brays Bayou runs near the Texas Medical Center and White Oak Bayou runs through the Heights-northwest area. And Sims Bayou is within the City of Houston but it extends to Missouri City including South Houston and Pasadena; all of which are in Harris County.

When my journalistic profession blossomed, I decided to move from the 5th Ward’s ‘rough-and-tumble’ inner-city to the Montrose/Westheimer area. Several years later I moved into the elegant confines of the burgeoning, revitalized Downtown Houston. Known around the nation as the biggest city in Texas and currently, the fourth largest city in the United States of America, Houston is poised to replace Chicago as the third-largest city. As an industrial city with a broad base of enterprises in energy, oil, manufacturing, aeronautics, and transportation, Bush Intercontinental Airport offers non-stop flight service to more than 70 international countries while Hobby Airport provides services throughout the United States and from Mexico and Latin America through Southwest Airlines.

Downtown Houston also consists of commercial, state, and county buildings including law firms.

City and county leaders boast of how Houston is the most diverse metropolitan area in Texas. The racial makeup of the city/county combine breaks down this (estimated) way:

    • 37.3% Anglo Whites
    • 36.5% Hispanic
    • 16.9% African American
    • 7.5% Asian
    • 1.8% Other

The city is so diverse that more than 145 different languages are spoken making Houston third among the largest numbers of languages spoken in a U.S. city behind New York (192) languages, and Los Angeles with 185 different languages.

GQ Magazine labeled Houston the “New Capitalist of Southern Cool.” For avid golf players, there are at least 198 golf courses scattered throughout a 50-mile radius of Downtown Houston, according to Golflink.com.

Downtown Houston where I comfortably reside ‘happy’ as a lark is the central business district for the city of Houston. This lone star city is home to a glowering skyline of offices similar in height to New York’s tall buildings, including businesses, hotels, clubs, and fine restaurants filled with buzzing activities, and plentiful attractions. What I’ve learned through research and personal experience is that Houston is home to world-class art, artists, the Symphony, and various kinds of music. If visitors or Houstonians decide to stay in one of Downtown’s upscale hotels like the Marriott, you can stroll on foot to your destination or pay $1.25 to catch the Metrorail train on Main Street and enjoy a nice show at the Houston Grand Opera or Houston Ballet in the theater district.

Are you a big sports fan? Walk on over to Polk street and watch a Rockets basketball game at the Toyota Center or depending on transportation mode, you can either catch the train or drive over to the NRG Stadium near the 610-South Loop West and watch the Texans play football.

Baseball is America’s national sport, a sport revered by patriotic Houstonians. Patrons can either walk or drive over to Minute Maid Park at 501 Crawford Street and watch a Houston Astros game against a rival team.

No matter if people live in Houston or just visiting they should visit Discovery Green Park located between Labranch and McKinney Street.

Discovery Green features breathtaking scenes with a lake, bandstands, and venues for public performances, two-dog runways, a playground, and multiple recreational lawns. Gateway Water Fountain, and, occasionally, Discovery Green has an ice skating rink.

Residents living downtown should visit the Houston Aquarium.

Management describes the Aquarium as part attraction, part restaurant, the gigantic place has a Ferris wheel, aquatic carousel, Shark Voyage, a white tiger exhibit including a wall-to-wall surf-and-turf menu.

“It’s crazy to realize that downtown is really like this now,” Bob Eury told Houstonia reporter Dianna Wray. Eury is a longtime president of the Houston Downtown Management District. “It didn’t happen fast. It sometimes feels that way now, but it took a lot of time and work to get here to make downtown into what it has become today.”

Eury continued: “People want urban lifestyle now, they want to live in a place with lots of density, and lots of options, where you can get around easily even without a car,” Eury said, further adding that, “Houston is a young city still, but we’re moving toward becoming a city like New York.”

bob eury cartoon by NewsBlaze
Bob Eury Cartoon by Newsblaze

A native artist and actress weigh in on Houston’s transformation

“We need to reinvent ourselves and improve our image,” Cressandra Thibodeaux told Tony Perrottet, in an interview for a Smithsonian Magazine article.

“You hear about how Pittsburg and Detroit are going through a renaissance, with new immigrant cultures and artists changing the city. But,” Thibodeaux explains, “people don’t know about how Houston is being transformed. It’s still got the old cowboy hat image, a hot, ugly city, where you just go to work.”

Houston’s Beginning

The city of Houston is named after Texas Revolutionary General and former Texas Governor Sam Houston. Houston played an epic role in leading Texas war soldiers to win the Revolution Battle of San Jacinto. The Revolution won Texas’s independence from Mexico. Shortly after Texas won its independence, Houston was officially founded in 1836 by brothers John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen. Both were land investors who paid almost $10,000.00 – to purchase over 6,600 acres located on the banks of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou which are historic areas near downtown known as Allen’s Landing.

Houston represents an international metropolis of everything in Texas with a mix of Southern charm and urban sophistication that captures the imagination of those with an adventurous spirit, a place filled to the brim with great wealth, celebrities and historians, historic colleges, and museums. Above all, this Southern town is a city with professional sports teams like the Astros, Texans Football Team, and the Houston Astros Basketball Team. A large city like Houston includes the best lavish operas, movies, and ballets.

Recession Strikes Houston

When the nation’s recession struck Houston hard during the 1980s, particularly in the oil and the energy sector, one out of six jobs in the region were lost. The recession struck the oil industry with such force until oil drilling rigs were torn apart and sold for scrap for pennies on the dollars. Houston began a slow recovery process between the 1990s and early 2000s.

Houston Chronicle article published August 2016–recall the 1980s recession in grim terms:

“The colossal fall in oil prices that began in 1982, and accelerated in 1986-not only sapped Houston’s Wildcatter spirit, but undermined Houston’s economic foundation.” The article went on to report how “Houston lost more than 225,000 jobs, about one in eight, and the unemployment rate climbed above 9 percent, nearly double today’s rate.”

“I remember seeing apartment projects started and not completed, and new office buildings sitting vacant,” said Keith Miller, senior energy lender at Mutual of Omaha Bank. “It was a low time for the Houston economy.”

Stephen Klineberg, Rice University. HoustonUser35, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Stephen Klineberg, Rice University. HoustonUser35, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen L. Klineberg, a sociologist and co-director of the Kinder Institute spoke with Smithsonian Magazine reporter Tony Perrottet about Houston’s prior oil bust and the changing of the ethnic landscape. Klineberg said when the oil boom fizzled that mostly Anglo whites lost oil jobs. “In 1980, Anglos made up 63 percent of the population,” Klineberg pointed out. “Now they’re less than 33 percent with Hispanics in Harris County today constituting 41 percent and African Americans 18.4 percent.”

Klineberg expounded on the ethnic transition that is driving the success of Houston and its greater surrounding suburb and smaller cities interconnected with Houston/Harris County.

“All of the region’s ethnic groups are now minorities, all of them called upon to build something never existed before in human history – a truly successful, inclusive, equitable, and united multi-ethnic society that will be Houston, Texas, and America as the twenty-first century unfolds,” Klineberg concluded.

During the oil bust of the 1980s, the appearance of Downtown Houston looked dreary with older, crumbling buildings, rampant homelessness, criminal activities, and open-air dope use, dope selling, including prostitution spread around the city. Two particularly downtown locations earned the reputation as a haven for illicit vice. These run-down places were identified by police as Annie’s cafe and the Montaque Hotel. Practically every Houston patrol officer and Vice Officers knew the exact address of the Montaque Hotel on Fannin Street, and the address of a yellow brick cafe called Annie’s, formerly located at Congress Street and Crawford. Both places were notorious for prostitutes, hustlers, and gamblers who plied their trade to bring in the money.

There were much nicer places in the downtown area like the Alley Theatre, Ensemble Theatre, Hermann Park, Plaza Parties, Wortham Center, and Market Square. Downtown Houston at that time attracted conmen and the worst of violent criminals waiting to prey on unsuspecting victims. Downtown Houston at this juncture was only a place for law-abiding suburbanites and blue-collar workers to come to work and head back to their communities.

Many years later as billions were spent to redevelop the downtown district; who would’ve predicted the masterful revitalization and rebirth of this amazing city in the 21st century today?

Major Revitalization

The Downtown District has been a major player in many of the public/private projects which transformed Downtown over the last decades.

City officials were determined to make the city rank high in stature as New York Districts or the equivalent of high-class California cities. So the plan began when Houston Downtown District initiated its revitalization efforts in 1995 – with five key goals in mind:

  • Accelerate the renewal of the city’s urban core, with quality of life as the underlying theme
  • Build a lasting constituency for Downtown

Recruit investors, retailers, and tenants while retaining those that already call Downtown home and,

  • Promote a vibrant and diverse downtown
  • Work together in partnership with others to make Downtown clean, safe, and attractive.

News Media outlets, quoting the downtownhouston.org webpage, says, “During the past two decades more than $9 billion in public and private investments have been made towards achieving Downtown Houston’s vision of a dynamic and vibrant place to live, work and play.”

For example, 2018, alone, marked a year of unprecedented construction activity, with a total of 33 new projects either completed, under construction or planned.

Meanwhile just last year, seven new projects were completed, a project that created 768 hotel rooms, 775,000 (square footage) of office space, and 20 new restaurants.

During this interim, another 27 projects are underway or planned, which are designated to reel in another 2,052 residential units and condominiums including new parking garages in Downtown Houston.

The completion of the 97,000 square footage Avenida Plaza, provides Houstonians, conventioneers, and tourists with glamorous dining, entertainment, replete with nearby art galleries; all within walking distance.

Meanwhile, Houston residents as well as visitors view Downtown Houston as a place to do far more than work because Downtown is now a beautiful place to live, dine, visit, play, enjoy the arts, worship, and learn new things in life or simply to enjoy the nightlife and party hardy.

“Every time you ask Houstonians what they want, they want safe and comfortable spaces,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, the former executive director of Houston Tomorrow.

Since the day George R. Brown Convention Center opened in 1987, near the eastside of downtown, thereafter, more development spawned in the same Eastside area like when the Minute Maid Park opened in 2000; then next came the opening of the fabulous Toyota Center and the Hilton Americas in 2003, and Discovery Green in 2008.

Reflecting on the continuing growth of the city, Mayor Sylvester Turner commented, “When I grew up in this city, there were probably, other than the hotels, there weren’t many people living downtown.” Thanks to downtown developments, Turner further explains, “Now we have about 10,000 people living downtown.” High rises are appealing to young and mid-age professionals, yet there are several older families among downtown residents.

My Experiences Living Downtown

My journey into Downtown Houston’s scenery happened when I moved near the area to be closer to my office space on Prairie Street.

Once there, as I took in the entire structure of the scenery in the Downtown District replete with its surrounding businesses and adjacent communities, its images in every direction were awe-inspiring.

The coronavirus pandemic struck Houston and the nation quite hard in March 2020, wreaking havoc on everyday life, commercial businesses, all sorts of money-making activities and entertainment etc. City and county government officials in Houston issued mandatory stay-at-home orders for nonessential workers and the closing of ‘hundreds of businesses’ rocked the economy into temporary recession.

The economy of Houston slowly began the recovery process as businesses and jobs reopen for business due to medical expert’s discovery of vaccinations to halt the continuing spread of the coronavirus and mandates were re-issued for citizens to wear masks.

Downtown Houston has plentiful sources of entertainment and clubs and eateries for everyone, especially for those either working downtown or living there. Those in the mix of action are only a spit distance away from some of the trendiest, exclusive spots in Houston, making the surroundings convenient for residents not to travel far to experience new exciting things in life.

Throughout Downtown Houston I’ve experienced joyous moments watching children happily playing at the area parks, couples holding hands, men and women walking their dogs, joggers and skateboarders weaving through foot traffic, and couples strolling between Caroline Street and Louisiana Street, darting in and out of restaurants, bars, or just sightseeing the billions of dollars spent to revamp the downtown center.

On the weekends(Friday & Saturday nights); downtown Houston is alive as flashing lights from sporty cars, Metro rail trains, and the strobe lights of high-rise clubs flash towards Heaven’s stars. At nightfall, Downtown Houston emits a rhythm and a beat; its irresistible seduction is potent enough to lure the living soul into its web of pure bliss.

While exiting my Prairie Street office building during summer evenings of blistering heat earlier this year to get into some action, straight across the street is the Beacon, a nonprofit organization serving homeless men and women, with much-needed daily services. Homeless people panhandle non-stop, begging for money and arguing with each other from sun up until sundown. At times it is difficult to sleep comfortably due to the loud voices and boom box music.

That’s just the way it is.

As I head westbound towards Main Street to check out the scenery and sip a few margaritas, I enjoy watching Houstonians(parents and children, girlfriend and boyfriend, husbands and wives, etc.) make their way toward Minute Maid Park to watch the Houston Astros play baseball against a rival team.

Once I make it to Main Street that leads to the heart of the Downtown District, a burst of activity is already booming.

Here is where the sprawling metropolis of Houston represents the city’s crown jewels, a wide-open place infused with a rich array of seductive things to view and first-class action for visitors.

Whether you’re looking for pulsating dance clubs, coffee bars, juice bars, down-to-earth honky-tonks, boisterous sports pubs, or even the swanky wine bars or upscale restaurants, Downtown Houston, either during the night or day, offers many amenities for each individual’s taste.

For starters, there is no better way to immerse yourself into the downtown happenings than to kick back at a club or a wet bar to sip a nice cocktail, bourbon, Hennessy, or margaritas, and meet the regular patrons.

Bartenders are a wealth of information and they can fix different liquor drinks to give you a buzz and cool you off on a warm evening. I often stop at Molly’s Irish Pub at 509 Main Street to drink a beer, eat a hotdog, and watch CNN news to catch up on the latest politics.

Sightseeing

The clubs on Main Street tonight are electrified, everyone feeding off the vibes of hip-hop music, soul music, reggae music, R&B ballads, and even a little bit of Honky Tonk. As the patrons – on the dance floors – dance to the tunes; their bodies gyrate with every sound beat. Dancing is not only pretty good exercise but it is also another way of letting the body move around whichever way a person desires to turn and twist.

Now it’s time to dig a little deeper to check out the club action. Strolling on both sides of the sidewalks led to fancy-looking nightclubs near the edge of northern downtown. I peeped into the places and watched people dancing and sipping alcohol, enjoying life to its fullest, as if tonight was their last night on earth. Anyone preferring a more relaxed pace can go bar hopping to places like the House of Blues, Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, and The Nightingale Room, a fashionable spot for jazz and blues.

Everywhere I turn … I spotted pretty women, dressed in tight-fitting clothing and high-heels as men driving exotic cars turn the block to catch their attention.

I am mesmerized.

And there’s more, much more.

I couldn’t leave the scene unless I watched a mixed crowd of Mexicans, whites, and blacks partying on the patio deck at Fabian Latin Flavors Club and Cuisine located at 301 Main Street.

From there, I cross over to a popular place called Bravo Chef. Inside Bravo Chef is a Cocktail Bar called ‘The Italian Job’ located at Travis and Preston Street, where I gulp down 2-3 of the best margaritas in town.

Next, if I’m hungry I stroll down to Frank’s Pizza only a few doors down and buy a slice of pizza or hot wings. While strolling back to my office building on Prairie–homeless men and women ask for money. I don’t mind handing over a ‘dollar or two’ sometimes.

Headed Back to Work.

Crossing over San Jacinto Street @ Prairie Street I finally make it back to my office space to finish writing a story or prepare questions for a witness in a criminal case as part of my duties as a PI(Investigative Specialist).

Before opening the front door a homeless man lying in the doorway prevented my entry. Feeling the door nudge him, the bewildered gentleman with a shaggy beard gets up, perhaps gracious, that I wasn’t ugly to him.

Although it’s nightfall, summertime in Houston is very hot. I give the homeless man a bottle of water and tell him, ‘Go ahead and lay back down and get a good night’s rest.’

After munching my hot wings, I wrote content for about an hour or two, then fell asleep.

Early next morning before 7: AM–I awake to the sounds of birds chirping, tweet, tweet, tweet.

I say a prayer, check the internet, and snooze a bit more.

Then I finally awake, ready to finish my research and typing.

Life starts over again in Downtown Houston.

Best Nightclubs and Bars in Downtown Houston

Here is a list of the best places to live and visit nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in Downtown Houston. I’ve visited a few spots to throwback some cold beers, delicious food and tasty margaritas.

https://www.downtownhouston.org/guide/bars-clubs/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g56003-zfn20933702-Houston_Texas.html

https://www.apartmentlist.com/tx/houston/neighborhoods/downtown-houston

  • Etro Night Club – 114 Main Street
  • Cherry – 308 Main Street
  • Bravery Chef & The Italian Job (I enjoyed sipping the best margaritas here earlier this summer on the patio at the Italian Job) – 409 Travis Street
  • The Dirt Bar – 1209 Caroline Street
  • Molly’s Pub – 509 Main Street
  • High & Dry – 306 Main Street
  • Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar – 308 Main Street
  • Base Nightclub – 801 Congress Street
  • Spire Nightclub – 1720 Main Street
  • Cle Houston – 2301 Main Street
  • Boots n Shoots – 506 Main Street
  • Dean’s Downtown – 316 Main Street

Best Places to Live in Greater Downtown Houston District Areas

The Greater Downtown Houston area is divided into distinct districts, areas, and exclusive, high-living neighborhoods. Development resources have been devoted to accommodating the growing number of people flocking to Houston to find homes either directly in the downtown area or the outskirts within the downtown region.

Do you prefer to enjoy the status and luxury style of living in these neighborhoods?

  • Montrose
  • Midtown (Third Ward)
  • East Downtown Houston (East End)
  • Washington Corridor
  • Museum District (Downtown Houston)
  • Houston Heights
  • Memorial Corridor
  • River Oaks
  • One Park Place Neighborhood (Downtown Houston)
  • Historical District (Downtown Houston)

Downtown Houston, undoubtedly, is one of the fastest-growing urban areas way down south in Texas in the United States. Houston has a flavor of living for anyone, no matter their ethnicity, profession, religion, work ethic, entrepreneur aspirations, talent, romantic preference, etc. If you’re young, a rising professional, blue-collar employee, a retiree, millionaire, or even a corporate worker tired of commuting to work in heavy traffic from the suburbs, Houston’s downtown upscale neighborhoods with better security than other areas can cater to both your immediate needs and future expectations.

Houston is on a rollercoaster ride and if anyone wants to hop on and ride with it; get ready for some of the best times of your life.

Newsblaze Journalist Clarence Walker Jr. is proud to call Downtown Houston his home. He can be reached at [email protected]

As an analyst and researcher for the PI industry and a business consultant, Clarence Walker is a veteran writer, crime reporter and investigative journalist. He began his writing career with New York-based True Crime Magazines in Houston Texas in 1983, publishing more than 300 feature stories. He wrote for the Houston Chronicle (This Week Neighborhood News and Op-Eds) including freelancing for Houston Forward Times.

Working as a paralegal for a reputable law firm, he wrote for National Law Journal, a publication devoted to legal issues and major court decisions. As a journalist writing for internet publishers, Walker’s work can be found at American Mafia.com, Gangster Inc., Drug War Chronicle, Drug War101 and Alternet.

His latest expansion is to News Break.News Break avatar

Six of Walker’s crime articles were re-published into a paperback series published by Pinnacle Books. One book titled: Crimes Of The Rich And Famous, edited by Rose Mandelsburg, garnered considerable favorable ratings. Gale Publisher also re-published a story into its paperback series that he wrote about the Mob: Is the Mafia Still a Force in America?

Meanwhile this dedicated journalist wrote criminal justice issues and crime pieces for John Walsh’s America’s Most Wanted Crime Magazine, a companion to Walsh blockbuster AMW show. If not working PI cases and providing business intelligence to business owners, Walker operates a writing service for clients, then serves as a crime historian guest for the Houston-based Channel 11TV show called the “Cold Case Murder Series” hosted by reporter Jeff McShan.

At NewsBlaze, Clarence Walker expands his writing abilities to include politics, human interest and world events.

Clarence Walker can be reached at: [email protected]