While Houston often parallels national trends, it also bucks them. Looking at one slice of the city, the Bellaire/Holcombe Corridor from the Medical Center to Highway 6, provides insight into the major shifts that have occurred in the landscape and demographics of our cities over the last 20 years.
But first a little history. Immigration to the U.S. spiked in two periods: the first period roughly around 1900 and the second at the turn of the 21st century. Yet the two periods are strikingly dissimilar, in one era assimilation was rewarded and quite seamless as most new residents arrived from Europe, in the second era a transnational approach is more common, where global connections to home countries, cultural traditions, and languages are maintained.
These two periods also differ in terms of settlement patterns. In 1900 most new arrivals to the U.S. settled in the center of cities, in 2000 it was the periphery—and the changing meaning of center and periphery began to unfold. In Houston this is evidenced in the original Chinatown that was established east of downtown, and now renamed as “EADO.” And Little Saigon (along Milam) has for the most part been folded into the new sparkling developments of Midtown.
While these trends are subject of a great deal of study across the U.S., in Houston it seems ordinary. Yet, entirely new landscapes are being formed on the outskirts of cities like Houston where traditional western building forms collide with cultural diversity in the global city.
The Bellaire corridor is one of the most paradigmatic examples of these changes. The area has fundamentally transformed from a traditional bedroom community to a global corridor, once more likely to be the home of swinging singles, but now is home to a diverse and globally connected population. If the global north and south, center and periphery, were ever really separated along national lines, today they clearly infuse one another, distributing inequalities and barriers along multiple and fractured lines, including within national boundaries.
This slice of Houston illustrates that we continue to have divisions, that income is distributed geographically, that we have continued to develop settlement patterns that set us apart from one another, and that the areas that have transformed the most profoundly are not inside the loop at all, but in the zone between the loop and the beltway.