Houston: The Rankest City

October 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

rank_scrollby Lynn Ashby

Our Number 1 is up

We all know that Houston is home to the world’s largest medical center by any measure—doctors, patients, square footage. Indeed, people come from the world over to die in Houston. We are first in having a domed stadium and “Houston” was the first word from the moon. (That’s up to dispute, but it’s our story and we’re sticking with it.) Yet, how do we measure up in seizures of illegal ivory? When you’re trying to recruit a Nobel Prize laureate to work the overnight shift at Wendy’s, you need to know how we rank among the snobbiest cities. When your prospective spouse’s father asks, “So you want to get married and move to Houston? How does that city rank in foreign consulates?” Smile that sneaky smile of yours and reply: “There are 92 countries’ consular offices in Houston; third highest in the nation.”

So let’s see where the Bayou City ranks in everything from receiving refugees to obesity.

More people moved to Houston last year than to any other American city except for New York. This year, local employers are on the path to add up to 90,000 new jobs. Houston alone authorized more building permits than the entire state of California in the first three months of 2014. The Wall Street Journal reported that the George Bush Intercontinental Airport & Muffler Repair Shop, based on average cost per mile traveled, is the tenth-most-expensive airport to fly from in the U.S. The National Complete Streets Coalition ranks Houston as the seventh-most dangerous city in the nation. But CQ Press, whatever that is, ranks Houston as the tenth-most crime-ridden city with a population of more than 500,000. Least crime? El Paso. (Texas is the tenth-most dangerous state.) Oh, here it is: “CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications, publishes books, directories, periodicals, and electronic products on American government and politics.” Maybe we should steal its crime stats.

The city really crowed when Forbes ranked Houston as Number 1—the coolest city in America in 2012. At the time, the magazine said that Houston “boasts a variety of skills and occupations. From medical professionals and engineers to production managers and accountants, Houston’s labor force fills 2.7 million jobs and counting. In fact, Houston has more jobs than Maryland, Arizona, or Colorado.” Alas for 2014, Forbes ranked Washington DC as the coolest city in America. We slipped to Number 4. Odd. We must need more accountants. A Manhattan Institute study, by demographer Robert Scardamalia and author Tom Gray, compared the performance of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas from 2009 to 2012, based on gross domestic product, personal income and job creation. Houston, The Woodlands and Sugar Land ranked fourth.

In the 2014 U.S. News & World Report rankings of the best colleges, Rice ranked 18, UT-Austin, 52, Texas A&M, 69, Baylor, 75, and UH tied with 11 other schools at 190. Meanwhile, according to the 2014 edition of Princeton Review’s “The Best 378 Colleges,” Rice University is Number 1 in “Best Quality of Student Life,” Number 2 in “Happiest Students” and Number 5 in “Great Financial Aid.” However, in the really important category of “Best Football Team,” the Owls beat out only UT-Austin and a barber’s college in Buffalo.


Ranking Number 1 among America’s CEOs in income for 2013: Our own Anthony Petrello of Nabors Industries, a drilling contracting company. Petrello had an income of $68.2 million, an increase of 246 percent from the previous year. Nabors is a Houston company but is officially based in Bermuda—something about taxes. The rest of us get to make up the difference. Travel + Leisure listed its “20 Snobbiest Cities in America,” and Dallas is nowhere to be found. Austin and Houston, however, both made the count. Austin came in at Number 19 for possessing a “brainy, offbeat vibe” that echoes through the whole town. Houston came in at Number 17, thanks to “a combination of a rich arts tradition and luxury shopping.” To no one’s surprise, especially snobs, San Francisco, New York City and Boston took the top three slots. Among the nation’s “20 Most Congested Cities in the U.S.,” Houston ranks ninth, according to a study by the makers of Breathe Right Nasal Strips and Sperling’s BestPlaces.

Galveston Bay is the second-most-productive estuary in the U.S. for seafood. Pass it on.

Brand Keys, a marketing company, polled fans to see: how exciting a team is during competition; how well they play as a team; how well respected and admired the players are; and the extent to which the game and the team are part of a fans’ and community’s rituals, institutions and beliefs. Which baseball teams have the most loyal fans? The St. Louis Cardinals’ fans finished first. At the very bottom, at Number 30, were the Houston Lastros, same as last year. For the third time, the Nielsen ratings registered a 0.0 for an Astros game. Any city having the worst team in major league baseball the same year it also has the worst NFL team may, in itself, make us Number 1 in misery.

Give us your poor, your tired, your chefs and baseball players. Some 75,000 refugees have arrived in Houston in the last 35 years. Houston has been the Number 1 city for refugees in the past two years. Texas is also Numero Uno in receiving refugees for the past two years. Numero Tres: The city has the third-largest Hispanic and third-largest Mexican population in the U.S.

Men’s Fitness magazine named Houston “America’s Fattest City.” It wrote that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 34 percent of our town’s residents are overweight. In previous surveys, the magazine claimed Houston was on the upswing in the weight-loss department, but there’s evidently been a bit of a regression since it last checked in. “It could be the heat. Houston typically suffers through a hundred or more days each year with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees, combined with relative humidity that rivals Manila’s. The city’s average commute—27.5 minutes, primarily by car since Houston lacks a comprehensive mass-transit system—also plays a major role in keeping Houstonians seated and sedentary.”

Houston ranked Number 15 on a list of the country’s top 30 metro areas based on the amount of office and retail space jointly developed in “Walkable Urban Places,” or “WalkUPs,” according to a national study on walkability and urbanism. The report also examined development patterns and other factors to predict how walkable these metros are likely to become. Houston ranked Number 13 among the 30 metros on that list. After seven straight years as U.S. News & World Report’s Number 1–ranked hospital for cancer care, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has fallen to Number 2. It dropped behind Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, its New York City rival, in the magazine’s annual “Best Hospitals” survey. The two have fought for the top spot since the survey’s inception in 1990.

But enough of these minor points, how does Houston rank overall as a city? That depends upon whom you ask. Bloomberg’s Best Cities ranks Houston Number 30. San Antonio comes in at 22, Dallas at 11. The Milkin Institute’s list of “Best Performing Cities” ranks Houston 4, Austin 1. Just remember, Milkin was a convicted felon. Houston was named the “Top U.S. Destination City,” the “Top U.S. Metro” by Site Selection magazine, also the “Top U.S. Manufacturing
City” and the
“Best City for Your Career.” Forbes’ annual survey of America’s fastest-growing cities put three of the Texas cities ranking in the top 10: Austin (Number 1), Dallas (Number 4) and Houston (Number 10). Forbes still loves us. Last September, the magazine said Houston was “America’s next great global city.”


Here are a few stats to drop at your next destruction derby:

Number 4: Houston is the fourth-most-populous city in the nation (trailing only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) and is the largest in the southern U.S. and Texas.

Number 30: If Houston were an independent nation, it would rank as the world’s thirtieth-largest economy.

Number 1 (again): Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other city. We have more than 11,000 restaurants. Maybe that explains our “Fattest City” crown. Where is Marvin Zindler when we need him?

Number 2: Houston has a theater district second only to New York City with its concentration of seats in one geographic area. The 17-block Theater District is home to eight performing arts organizations with more than 12,000 seats. This is one of five U.S. cities that offer year-round resident companies in all major performing arts, and the city has 69 topless bars, which puts it at or near the top.

Number 1: Houston is home to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The world’s largest livestock show and rodeo attracts more than 2.2 million visitors each year.

Number a Few Billion: The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Gross Area Product (GAP) in 2006 was $325.5 billion, slightly larger than Austria’s, Poland’s or Saudi Arabia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While we’re at it, when comparing Houston’s economy to a national economy, only 21 countries other than the U.S. have a gross domestic product exceeding Houston’s regional gross area product.

Number 23: The number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Houston. Only New York City is home to more. The Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled. It is the tenth-largest port in the world. The Port handled 220 million short tons of domestic and foreign cargo in 2010. The Port also ranks Number 1 in the nation in seizures of illegal ivory. However, former Rocket Yao Ming was the star of a film in China warning against buying ivory and poaching elephants. According to the Children At Risk organization and the Education Resource Group, in 2014, the DeBakey High School for Health Professions is the top public high school in the greater Houston area. T.H. Rogers Elementary and T.H. Rogers Middle School topped the list for both elementary and middle schools.

Okay, my fellow swamp rats, there we have it. By virtually every yardstick, we are living in a place at a time when everything is booming, good and bad. I didn’t go into how we rank in dirty air, West Loop traffic and August afternoons. So let’s look on the bright side of life, as they sing in “The Life of Bryan.” Everyone is making money, living longer, getting happier. And remember, at Minute Maid Park you are never more than a half-inning from major league baseball. H

Sources: The U.S. Census, Houston Chronicle (which ranks Number 1 as the largest circulation newspaper in the nation never to have won a Pulitzer, but they hired one), Houston Facts, Google and statistics that magically appeared on my computer screen.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!