Cities, noted René Descartes, should provide “an inventory of the possible,” a transformative experience—and a better life—for those who migrate to them. This was certainly true of seventeenth-century Amsterdam, about which the French philosopher was speaking. And it’s increasingly true of Texas’s fast-growing metropolises—Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio. In the last decade, these booming cities have created jobs and attracted new residents—especially young families and immigrants—at rates unmatched by coastal metropolitan areas. Approximately 80 percent of all population growth in the Lone Star State has been in the four large metropolitan areas since 2000. Texas now boasts two of the nation’s five largest metros, the first time any state has enjoyed that distinction. At its current rate of growth, Houston could replace Chicago as the nation’s third-largest city by 2030, and the Dallas–Fort Worth region could surpass Chicagoland as the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area by the 2040s.
Historically, those who think and write about urban living have regarded Texas cities with disdain. The midcentury journalist John Gunther dismissed Houston, now the state’s largest city, as a place “where few people think about anything but money.” Gunther predicted that the area’s population would eventually grow to a measly 1 million people. He was off by a bit: close to 7 million people now call the Houston metropolitan area home. Houston and the other flourishing Texas metros are neither downtown-focused like New York nor highly regulated and densely packed like Los Angeles. They aren’t disproportionately brain-intensive or tech-oriented; and they aren’t dominated by green politics and, generally speaking, strict planning. Though booming, they have kept living costs down. In all this, they differ from San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Boston—places that may continue to thrive in the future but that show little interest in creating the economic opportunity and affordability that attracts aspirational middle- and working-class families. In short, Texas’s cities are reshaping urbanism in America, albeit in ways few scholars or planners seem to appreciate.View Article