Houston: Insert Catchy Cliché Here Studies determine city has had enough studies

May 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

“Houston, we have a problem” must be the most overused cliché (is that redundant?) since “I’m the candidate of change” and “At the end of the day.” But, Houston, we do have a problem, and it’s a rather strange one. Which polls, studies and reports are we to believe? We are receiving mixed messages about how good or bad we are. I know the compliments are accurate statements based on scientific research. The put-downs are from researchers who couldn’t get grants from the Houston Endowment.

These studies, polls, etc. are from out-of-town experts, and reflect what others think about us, screwed up though their opinions may be. As Robert Burns wrote:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

Burns either had a speech defect or the Scot was hitting the Johnnie Walker Red, but how do others — or ithers — see us? In many different lights.

College Graduates
According to one study, of the 50 fastest growing metropolitan areas, Houston ranked 49th in its ability to attract college-educated 25-to-34-year-olds. Research for this project was conducted by CEOs for Cities, a group I have never heard of, but is described as a “Chicago-based nonprofit organization.” So is Sears. The study also found Houston is not among the top 20 cities young college graduates consider when choosing a home. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2005, only 25 percent of Harris County residents between ages 25 and 44 have at least a bachelor’s degree. Compare that with 52 percent for Fulton County (Atlanta) and 45 percent for Travis County (Austin).

On the other hand, the U.S. Census Bureau says Houston added 250,000 jobs in the last four years, placing it behind only New York City and Dallas. This just in: Houston-area employers added 86,900 jobs between February 2007 and February 2008, up 3.9 percent. The national average is 0.7 percent. This puts us in first place among U.S. metropolitan areas. It could be these jobs are being filled by non-college grads, which would include most Rockets and Texans (but the pay is terrific).

Speaking of sports, we tend to attract many pro athletes who retain homes here for the off-season or no season, even after being traded to other cities or retiring. Rusty Staub, Jim Kelly, Phil Garner and others played here, left, and returned. They like Houston. (A quick aside: Hakeem Olajuwon, upon retirement, invested in the Houston real estate market. His explanation why he stayed here to do business with out-of-towners: “I have the home court advantage.”) On the other-other hand, we can’t keep our home-grown jocks home. Last year, 47 of Texas’ 100 top-ranked graduating high school football players went out of state. Former University of Houston head football coach Bill Yeoman once observed he could always field a winning team if only he could hold onto the local talent.

Over Eaters
Men’s Fitness magazine keeps declaring Houston as America’s fattest city. Oh, come on. No one can possibly rate a city for fatness anymore than we could be rated on humor, sarcasm or thought-given-to-voting. This just in: Houston has been named America’s smartest city. Disprove THAT, Men’s Fitness. So what are we to think? As Benjamin Disraeli once observed, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

To be truthful, if not boastful, when it comes to eating, we have a lot of choices. In the greater Houston area including The Woodlands, Sugar Land and Pasadena, we have 10,000 eateries. This is counting fast-foods, drive-thrus, etc. Plus, we have local gas station/convenience stores selling two-week-old hotdogs. We are not fat. We’re well fed.

Air Analyzers
We have a reputation for dirty air. But a study funded by the Greater Houston Partnership and Gas Mask Consortium finds our air is relatively clean compared to, say, Beijing. The Sierra Club, however, says we have bad air pollution. What a bunch of tree-hugging fruit flies.

Cultural Aficionados
It has been observed that an intellectual Texan is someone who can hear the “William Tell Overture” and not immediately think of the Lone Ranger. But Houston is one of only four U.S. cities with full-time professional performing arts companies — opera, ballet, theater and symphony orchestra.

Creative Thinkers
Yet another study in a new book, “The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life” by college professor Richard Florida, argues American cities will grow, prosper, invigorate and succeed only if they keep attracting creative people. This category includes anyone who thinks for a living: doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and computer programmers along with writers, painters, musicians and other “artistically creative people.” The creative class now makes up 30 percent of the workforce, double what it was just 20 years ago.

Professor Florida’s “creative-capital theory” reinforces what many other studies have found: Creative people do not just follow the money. They also choose their new homes for tolerant environments and diverse population. He says a quick way to spot such a city is by its number of gays and bohemians. The most creative city in America is San Francisco, then Austin. Houston ranks seventh, ahead of Washington and New York City.

Slogans and Titles
We cannot stand on our laurels. The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a “My Houston” campaign in other cities to tell our story. The convention bureau has spent $75 million in the last 30 years to promote the city, and has trotted out all sorts of slogans. During the oil bust of the 1980s, we were “Houston Proud.” When the economy began to recover, billboards proclaimed “Houston’s Hot.” Another city slogan, “Space City: A Space of Infinite Possibilities,” never quite caught on. We all — OK, some of us — remember, “Expect the Unexpected.” After a City Hall scandal, some wags preferred, “Suspect the Unindicted.” Incidentally, our very first slogan, about a century ago, was, “Where 17 Railroads Meet the Sea.” That sounds like the makings of one gigantic splash. The only label that has stuck is the unofficial “Bayou City,” which could describe any town from Bay

City to Pensacola.
The nicest title we received was conferred by the Dallas Morning News in 2005: “Texan of the Year,” for Houston taking in, unforeseen and unplanned, 250,000 evacuees from New Orleans. There must be something about us to like; 100,000 of the Katrinians are still here.

One project we might call a self-survey on Houston by Houstonians was set up by two ad agents, Randy Twaddle and David Thompson, who came up with, “Houston. It’s Worth It.” The originators set up a Web site, www.houstonitsworthit.com, and have received thousands of suggestions. They range from positive, “Houston has so much to offer: diversity, culture, shopping and nice people … plus, you never have to buy a winter coat;” to humorous, “Houston is like mold. It grows on you.”

We have a problem?

So it appears that if Houston does have a problem, it is that so many people want to become Houstonians — ithers see us as neighbors.

It’s Never Too Hot

May 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Houstonians suffer through scorching heat waves, stifling humidity and blood-lusting mosquitoes. The Bayou City has much to offer outdoors, despite Mother Nature’s wrath. Step out, put the convertible’s top down and catch some rays. Sunshine and good times are just right outside the door.

Park it
Houston has more than 56,400 acres of total park space, not counting suburban parks and golf courses – 27.2 acres per 1,000 residents. Classic venues like Hermann and Memorial parks and newly opened Discovery Green offer many activities. Hermann Park features the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theater and acres of lush grass where you can people watch, picnic or just relax. Memorial Park has the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. Stroll through five miles of tree-lined trails without ever leaving the heart of Houston. Approximately 155 acres on the west side of Memorial Park are dedicated to this green treasure.

Houston also boasts several dog or “Bark Parks,” complete with walking trails, benches, trees, doggie showers, ponds, fountains and small and large dog areas with corresponding fire hydrants. “We don’t have a big yard [at home], so having the parks make it easy for us to let the dogs out. They can be free and just be a dog,” says Houstonian Jennifer Self.

FORE! Houston is also a golfer’s paradise. In Golf Digest’s 2006 listing of America’s Greatest Golf Hometowns, the Spring-Conroe area ranked second and Houston ranked third. More than 160 public and private courses dot the area’s landscape. Among these courses is Redstone Golf Club, where the PGA’s Shell Houston Open is played. Duffers and scratch golfers can find challenging courses, practice greens, chipping areas and driving ranges.

The night time is the right time
Houston’s hot days turn into warm nights as gulf breezes keep temperatures from falling too far. For a unique experience, visit Buffalo Bayou Park near the Waugh Street Bridge. Every evening at sunset, more than 250,000 Mexican Free-tailed bats emerge from under the bridge. Watch from the bayou’s gentle slopes and await nature’s spectacular scene. Afterward, visit a restaurant or bar offering patio dining. Enjoy a light meal and ice-cold beverage with a gorgeous skyline or waterfront view.

Home is where the heart is
Houstonians don’t have to go further than their backyard for an outdoor escape. The yard doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Amenities like swimming pools, outdoor kitchens, patios and deck areas can create a backyard paradise. “We don’t have a big backyard, but we get a lot of use out of it,” says Heights resident Tim Nichols. “We built our own little outdoor kitchen and use it almost every night. It’s a great place to relax, have a few friends over and have fun.” Nichols’ wife Theresa enjoys working in the yard. “It’s therapy for me. When I am in the yard, I don’t have to think of anything else,” she says.

Houstonians and visitors constantly express their disgust with heat, humidity and pests. However, being outdoors doesn’t have to be a bad thing, Self says. “It’s what you make of it. You can always buy repellant or something cute and light to wear outside. [We] can’t do anything about the weather, but as long as we are here, we may as well enjoy it.”

Flattering Fashions

May 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Finding YOUR perfect bathing suit

Perfect Size
First, pinpoint your body’s shape; it makes bathing suit shopping much easier. Whether it is a one-piece, bikini or tankini there are suits made specifically for apple, pear, boy and athletic builds. “The three key words you need to keep in mind are color, construction and cut,” says Stephanie Talafuse, owner of Premiere Swimwear. “A well-chosen swimsuit can shed pounds off your body.”

Women have the tendency to focus on size rather than fit, which makes them look bigger. When trying on a suit, get several different sizes: grab a size larger, one that is smaller and one that is your size. If it creates bulges it’s too small. Sit, turn around, stretch, lift your arms and make sure parts of the body don’t pop out unexpectedly. Nothing is worse than coming out of the water with private areas showing.

The cut is just as important as the size. Avoid a bathing suit you don’t feel comfortable wearing. While a bikini looks great on your friend, it might not be perfect for you. Try on different styles to see which cut is the most flattering on your body. Here are a few tips for different body styles:

Large Backside and Legs
Cut: full coverage
bikini bottom
Color/Shade: any
Print: solids or large
Avoid: small prints, boy shorts

Large Busts
Cut: wide straps, halter tops, deep V-necks
Color/Shade: dark
Print: large
Avoid: spaghetti straps, bandeau

Small Busts
Cut: triangular bikini top
Color/Shade: Any
Embellishments: ruffles, ties, buckles, ringlets
Avoid: haltertops, one-piece

Flabby Stomach Cut: boycut shorts, tankinis, one-piece
Color/Shade: dark bottom, light top
Print: large prints, florals, vertical stripes
Avoid: horizontal stripes

After choosing the right cut and size, focus on style. Just like shoes and clothes, bathing suits have trends.

Color and Print:
Retro is hot this season. “Halter tops, sweetheart necklines, bandeau tops, prints and mixed vivid colors are everywhere,” Talafuse says. Also, geometric prints, vintage floral, asymmetry and one-shoulder styles are a must for 2008. Many jungle prints are featured in several trendy new collections and include giraffe, tiger and leopard. Make a bold statement by wearing something colorful or bright.

Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret have made cut-out swimsuit a must-have. They are sexier than a one-piece, provide more coverage than a bikini and don’t expose every asset.

Details are very popular. Crystals, beads, semi-precious stones and anything gold are hot. Also, look for fringe, appliqué and bows that adorn swimsuit bottoms and tops. The more details on a bathing suit, the less you have to accessorize when out in the hot sun.

There are many department stores and boutiques around town carrying this season’s hottest looks. Update your wardrobe and uplift your spirits with the right suit.