Beautification efforts are paying off as Houston polishes up its image.


Photo Credit by Flickr, Dredrk. aka Mr Sky

width=200Better known for its brawn than its beauty, Houston has built a solid reputation as a hard-working city lacking in looks and style, thanks to urban sprawl and a noticeable absence of zoning laws. While the city may not be able to completely escape its screaming billboards and oil refineries, numerous projects to beautify Houston have paid off, helping the largest city in Texas to shake its frumpy past and turn a few heads along the way.

This year the opening of Discovery Green added a 12-acre park in downtown near the George R. Brown Convention Center, Minute Maid Park and the Toyota Center. Modeled after great urban parks, Discovery Green aims to provide an interactive green space within the city center. Its features include a one-acre lake, public art installations, a children's park, interactive water fountains, several promenades and gardens, dog runs, green lawns and a performance site with regularly scheduled programming.

width=200This fall, the Houston Pavilions will open in downtown, aiming to be the city's premiere entertainment, retail and office hub. The $170 million project covers four city blocks and will add upscale retail tenants, 200,000 square feet of premium office space and a central courtyard. Retail tenants will include the House of Blues, Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, McCormick & Schmicks, Polk Street Pub, BCBG and the Cork Wine Bar.

o those who know Houston, it is no small surprise that the nation's fourth largest city is beginning to gain a more sophisticated image. Houston has never been short on culture, contrary to what some uninformed outsiders may think. The city has long been a treasure trove of cultural offerings with its world-class museum district, downtown theater district, off-the-wall art scene, bevy of national sports teams and fine dining venues.

width=200While there may be some who aren't familiar with Space City's softer side, the energy capital of the world is a well-known player in the global economy. Built on the energy industry, Houston has successfully diversified and strengthened its economy since the oil depression of the 1980s, which devastated the city. Once claiming 86 percent of the city's employment base, energy now accounts for less than 50 percent of the city's economy. Other industries that have flourished in Houston are computer manufacturing, medicine, technology, nanotechnology, space/aerospace and international trade.

Houston also claims headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ConocoPhillips, Sysco, width=200Anadarko, Continental Airlines, Waste Management and Reliant Energy. Plus, Houston is home to the world's largest medical complex - the Medical Center - with 46 institutions, including 13 hospitals, two medical schools and four nursing schools. The Port of Houston drives the city's international trade, ranking first in the United States for foreign waterborne tonnage and 10th in the world for total tonnage.

With its strong economy, persevering spirit and focus on excellence, Houston is destined to be a winner.