Though I was born in Indiana, Ive lived most of my life in Houston, Texas, and for me its home. Until 5th grade I lived in Missouri City, a classic bedroom-burb fifteen miles from town. I thought it was a nice place: my friends lived in the neighborhood, and my folks shuttled me wherever I needed to go. But I started to change my opinion when we moved into town.
I read somewhere that Houston has more Asians than any other city in America (save Los Angeles). Houstons Chinatown stretches for something like five miles, and we moved to the western edge of it. What a change that was for me! I went from living in a primarily Anglo suburb to a place that had street signs in English and Chinese. My grade school had kids from every continent. My friends had last names like Nguyen, Khan, and Ta. I got to see people who didnt look like me, people whom I wouldve never guessed existed while I was living in the stultifying suburbs. And it was great...but it was still a car-dependent part of town. Until the late 1960s that part of Houston was either ranch or rice fields, and it wasnt totally paved over until a few years ago. But there are a couple of city buses running out there, and its actually within the city limits, so it was a giant step up from Missouri City.
But it wasnt until after high school that I learned what it was like to live in a real city neighborhood, to live in a place that was built for people, rather than cars.
The first place I had was in the Montrose, a neighborhood about two miles from downtown--and it was really something! Within a mile there were three great bookstores, at least a hundred restaurants, a nice university, a magnet fine-arts high school, and some of the coolest people in Houston. The street I lived on was originally on a streetcar route, and it was a very people-friendly neighborhood. The main drag is a very narrow street, and folks frequently park in the middle of it. People live there--people, not cars! There is history there. People there arent all alike, and for them the American Dream isnt some standardized home on a forgotten ranch twenty miles from town. I know why my little part of Houston is where it is, and I know why it looks as it does. People who live there think a little more about things, and are better people because of it. And isnt that what counts?
Pete Stacey now lives in the Heights, an old streetcar suburb two or three miles from downtown.