Are Dallas and Houston Really Just the Same City?

Last week I debated the relative merits of Dallas and Houston with the editorial director of Houstonia Magazine. Our exchange took place on the airwaves of Houston’s public radio station, KUHF. A fine human by the name of Chris Kratovil wrote in with his own theory about the two cities: they are too similar to get along. With his permission:

My compliments on your efforts to defend the honor of Dallas against the attacks emanating from the Bayou City. You performed well on KUHF, and our mutual teachers at Cistercian and Notre Dame would doubtless be proud of your rhetorical skills.

The only weak part of your performance was your relative lack of familiarity with Houston which is, of course, entirely understandable if you’ve only been there a handful of times. I’ve lived and worked in both cities as an adult and a professional. Surprisingly few Dallasites seem to have done this. Based on my experiences as an ex-Houstonian and current North Texan, I’d like to share a handful of observations regarding the two cities.

The Dallas-Houston rivalry has always struck me as a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt. Most aspects of Dallas life have a direct, clear analog in Houston. When I first moved to Houston in 2000, I was fond of describing the place as “Bizarro World Dallas” where every facet of Dallas had a slightly warped but still recognizable clone. Let me give you a some specific examples:

1. Ritzy old money neighborhood close to downtown marked by leafy streets and intense policing: River Oaks (Houston) and Highland Park (Dallas).

2. Small, expensive private university in the heart of town: Rice (Houston) and SMU (Dallas).

3. Upscale neighborhood immediately adjacent to the small, expensive private university in the heart of town: West University (Houston) and University Park (Dallas).

4. Historic, classy open-air shopping center frequented by the well-to-do: Rice Village (Houston) and Highland Park Village (Dallas).

5. Proud nearby town that is great to take out-of-town guests to, but that has its own identity and deeply resents being lumped in or confused with its younger, larger neighbor: Galveston (Houston) and Fort Worth (Dallas).

6. Fast-growing mixed-use neighborhood established in the last 15 years that caters to single young professionals and is just across the freeway from downtown: Midtown (Houston) and Uptown (Dallas).

7. Charming, close-in neighborhood of historic but small 1920’s and 30’s homes that caters to young professionals after they pair off and leave their apartments in Midtown/Uptown: The Heights (Houston) and The M-Streets (Dallas).

8. Master planned and fast growing outlying suburb of McManasions that caters to married professionals when they have kids and flee their starter homes in The Heights/M-Streets in order to avoid HISD/DISD: The Woodlands (Houston) and Frisco (Dallas).

9. Recently remodeled in-town airport dominated by Southwest Airlines: Hobby (Houston) and Love Field (Dallas).

10. Big international airport outside of town that is dominated by a single carrier for long-haul flights: Bush Intercontinental and United/Continental Airlines (Houston) and DFW Airport and American Airlines (Dallas).

11. Decrepit but historic stadium that is barely used anymore but that no one knows what to do with: Astrodome (Houston) and Cotton Bowl (Dallas).

12. Large, wildly popular Texas-themed carnival featuring an abundance of fried food, farm animals and thrill rides: Rodeo Houston (Houston) and the State Fair of Texas (Dallas).

13. Arts-themed multi-block “district” in downtown that the city has recently invested enormous resources in and is rightfully proud of: Theatre District (Houston) and Arts District (Dallas).

14. Never-quite-worked-as-advertised downtown restaurant and retail development: Bayou Place (Houston) and West End Market (Dallas).

15. Large all-male Catholic high school: Strake Jesuit (Houston) and Jesuit (Dallas).

16. Fancy all-female Catholic high school: Duchesne Academy (Houston) and Ursuline Academy (Dallas).

17. Elite, expensive prep school with an Episcopalian heritage but few remaining traces of its religious origins other than its name: St John’s (Houston) and St. Mark’s School of Texas (Dallas).

18. Popular jogging/biking trail near downtown: Memorial Park (Houston) and Katy Trial (Dallas).

19. Suburban outlet mall featuring Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks’ Off 5th: Katy Mills (Houston) and Grapevine Mills (Dallas).

20. “Galleria” retail and office complex constructed in the early 80’s: Houston Galleria (Houston) and Dallas Galleria (Dallas).

21. Congested freeway loop around the city: 610 (Houston) and 635 (Dallas).

I could go on and on. Indeed, I’ve even omitted some of the more obvious parallels (e.g., Toyota Center/AAC or John Wiley Price/Quanell X). But I think you see my point; Dallas and Houston don’t get along because in so many ways they are so damn similar.

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