Recently, Joel Kotkin, an urban studies professor at Chapman University in California, stirred up some controversy by contending that either San Francisco or Houston would be in the running to push out New York as America's pre-eminent city within a few years. Professor Kotkin went so far as to opine that Houston has an edge over San Francisco in this battle for future city dominance.
Predictably, people from San Francisco were furious at the suggestion that Houston might in some way be equal to the City by the Bay, much less superior. Online comments at SfGate likened Houston to a dog's butt, the inside of a dog's mouth (showing a curious fascination with dog anatomy), and essentially slagged our fair city as being Hell on Earth. In fact, one comment actually said that Hell was better. Sigh.
Kotkin's theory rests on a few key advantages he sees Houston possessing, and they're not particularly surprising. Houston has a lively economy, an enormous energy industry, and a relatively inexpensive cost of living for its residents. It also has a huge pool of engineers because of the petrochemical industry that's so entrenched in the area.
San Francisco gets points for having a large concentration of technology companies, but loses some of its edge because it is an expensive city to live in, according to Kotkin.
One thing strikes me about these types of comparisons. It's really difficult to directly compare cities as different as Houston, San Francisco and New York. All three are magnificent in their own way, but it has really just been recently that Houston has begun to get the credit it deserves as a world-class city, whereas San Francisco and especially New York have long taken their status as top American cities for granted. The fact that people are beginning to add Houston to that list seems to threaten some people, which I find sad.
Kotkin claims that Houston is not a particularly pretty city, and the weather can be harsh. I disagree with his first point, and agree with the second -- "beauty" is a subjective call; humidity and heat are less so.
Houston is thriving on many fronts, with the nation's fastest-growing population, while San Francisco's has stayed pretty much the same, partially due to prohibitively high real estate prices.
And Houston has many factors that do seem to indicate that it is poised to rapidly become one of the country's most important cities over the next few decades.
First, there's the local economy, which is barreling along quite nicely. Houston is leading the nation in job creation and energy sector jobs, and it's also second to New York City in the number of Fortune 500 companies. Houston has an enormous amount of international trade, which further boosts our economy, and has a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the U.S. Add those things to the fact that the cost of living in H-Town is relatively low, and it's easy to see why so many people decide to settle here despite that famous heat and humidity.