The Bayou City may not be the first place you associate with being hip or trendy. But Houston has something many other major cities don’t: jobs. With the local economy humming through the recession, Houston enjoyed 2.6% job growth last year and nearly 50,000 Americans flocked there in response — particularly young professionals. In fact, the median age of a Houston resident is a youthful 33.Which brings up the obvious question: how do you quantify something as quinessentially subjective as "coolness," anyway? Forbes explains that they rated the nation's 65 largest metropolitan areas based on the following criteria: the number of cultural, entertainment, sports and recreational opportunities available; the number of (non-chain) dining establishments available; the diversity of the population; the median age (with "a large young adult population" being favored); the unemployment rate; and net migration. Thankfully, factors like climate, the murder rate, traffic congestion or the quality of local sports franchises were not considered.
The result? Over the past decade, the dreary corporate cityscape has been quietly transforming. Stylish housing developments have popped up downtown, restaurants have taken up residence in former factories and art galleries like the Station Museum have been inhabiting warehouses.
Combine that with a strong theater scene, world-class museums and a multicultural, zoning-free mashup of a streetscape and you have the recipe for the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ list of America’s Coolest Cities To Live.
Even if rankings like these should be taken with a grain of salt, this list is no more dubious than Men's Fitness declaring Houston to be the nation's "fattest city" based largely on circumstantial factors such as the number of fast food joints in the city or the average commute times of residents (as opposed to, say, a scientific sampling of locals' body-mass indices). Besides, if a news magazine like US News and World Report can publish a (highly flawed and biased) list of college rankings every year, then I guess a business magazine like Forbes can publish a list of cool city rankings. So I'll take the positive publicity for my city.
The idea that a place like Houston could actually be the nation's "coolest" city will naturally receive mocking derision from people in New York City or San Francisco (because, after all, what can be cooler than paying $1,600/month for a 350-square-foot studio apartment?) and outright hostility from folks in Austin and Dallas (which were ranked 19th and 4th, respectively). But whatever one might think of these rankings, there is a measure of truth to them: the cost of living here is low, the economy is good, the population is diverse, the winters are mild, there are a lot of activities to do and the food is great. Even if that doesn't make Houston the "coolest" place to be, the fact remains that this is a good place to live.
Here's a slideshow of the top twenty cities or, if you want to skip all the way to the top, Houston. The Houston Press and CultureMap Houston have more.