When people think of a thriving, up and coming city, they don’t usually think of Houston. People tend to associate the city with the smell of oil refineries, oppressive humidity, and the perennially underperforming Astros.
They should take another look. Houston’s an economic juggernaut.
It’s by far the country’s number one job creator, the home of America’s booming energy industry, is more diverse than New York City (PDF) and lets you stretch a paycheck farther than anywhere else in the country.
Add to that a thriving restaurant and cultural scene, and you’ve got a winning case for Houston as the best American city.
Living well isn't just about high pay. It's about how much everything costs. You can't beat Houston here. When you adjust for cost of living, Houston has the highest pay in the country at $75,256, ahead of places like the San Jose area, which has high wages, but extremely high costs.
Housing is affordable: Houston didn't experience a housing bubble the way the rest of the country did.
There are 22 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Houston, fewer than New York's 45, but double Dallas or Atlanta, which tie for fourth with 10. Many are in the city's 'energy corridor,' the home of the oil and gas industry.
They include Conoco Phillips, Marathon Oil, Sysco, Apache, Halliburton, and many more.
Houston is the home of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space centre. It's the home of America's astronaut corps, and place where they, and many international astronauts, get trained to go to space.
It's a significant research centre and employer, as well as housing Mission Control for manned spaceflight expeditions.
The New York Times recently gave glowing reviews to innovative Houston restaurants Oxheart and Underbelly. The paper's chief food critic, Pete Wells, wrote that Houston is becoming 'one of the country's most exciting places to eat.'
There's also an outpost of Uchi, one of America's most lauded sushi restaurants, and much more.
Houston has particularly excellent Vietnamese food due to a massive expatriate population, which was partially drawn by the large seafood industry. There's great Mexican food, and a strong Cajun presence due to the proximity of New Orleans and the many people who came after Katrina, and stayed.
And don't forget barbecue, because this is Texas after all, at places like Goode Company.
The less said about the Astros, the better. But the Texans look like they'll be a serious contender for the Super Bowl next year, the Rockets surprised everybody with their playoff run, and the Houston Dynamo of the MLS have been a perennial playoff contender.
The oil and gas industry is booming in the United States. Not only is Houston the home of corporations like Conoco Phillips and Marathon, it's the centre of the petrochemical industry, close to Texas oil fields, and close to Latin America.
The energy sector provides an estimated 3.4% of all of the jobs in the area, and a large amount of the growth.
Houston's port is the largest in terms of international tonnage handled, and second overall. That means a great deal of international business and trade.
That means even more jobs.
It's also exceptionally business friendly, and is the only major US city without zoning laws.
That port, its strength in the energy sector, and proximity to Latin America, saw more than 100 foreign-owned companies either relocate, expand, or start new businesses in Houston between 2008 and 2010.
It hosts the world's largest concentration of health care organisations, with scientists working hard to beat cancer.
The Texas Medical centre is the largest single employer in Houston, and the largest medical centre in the world, with 21 hospitals, 8 academic and research institutions, and 50 total related organisations, all not-for-profit.
The complex is larger than downtown Dallas.
Institutions include The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer centre, one of the world's premier cancer treatment and research hospitals, which is spending billions in an aggressive push to cure 5 types of cancer.
The city is filled with world-class and unique museums and cultural landmarks, like the Rothko Chapel.
Houston's Museum of Fine Arts is among the largest museum's in the United States, and one of the best collections of American decorative art and furniture in the house of a former trustee, along with 14 acres of former gardens.
Mark Rothko spent three years creating the works of art that inhabit The Rothko Chapel, which he also helped design.
There are 19 total museums in a 1.5 mile radius that make up the Houston Museum District.
Though it's known for its association with the oil industry, Houston has lots and lots of parks and green space. 50,632 acres in total. That puts it third behind only San Diego and Dallas in acreage per capita.
The city's been investing a large amount in building out this space, particularly building out the space surrounding Buffalo Bayou, Houston's main waterway.
The combination of The University of Houston and Rice University means there are a bunch of smart people around.
It's not quite the college town that Boston is, but Houston's higher education is nothing to sniff at. The University of Houston has some 41,000 students, and was elevated to Tier One status as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation in 2011.
According to census data, Houston is the most racially and ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the United States. Some 400,000 foreign born residents moved to the city between 2000 and 2010.
The Anglo population in Houston is 39.7, compared to 48.9 in New York, there are nearly as many Latinos as Anglos, and there's a huge and rapidly growing Asian population.
Houston has produced artists like Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Slim Thug.
Beyoncé was born in Houston in 1981, and competed in the area's talent show circuit with her childhood friend Kelly Rowland and LaTavia Robertson as Girl's Tyme, which later became Destiny's Child.
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