Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet. Unlike traditional gateway cities such as New York City, Houston’s economy is wildly varied into not just financial services, but also manufacturing of myriad types, and so attracts a far broader spectrum of immigrants from a far broader array of countries. Unlike all other American gateway cities, it also has sufficient land in nearly all directions to expand, as evidenced by its radial expansion pattern. This dramatically reduces property prices compared to places such as Seattle or San Francisco, making it an ideal location for both immigrants and Americans to seek a new start. As of 2015, Houston is America’s third-largest metropolitan area and, aside from its fellow Texas city of Austin, the United States’ fastest-growing metroplex.
Houston long has been (rightly) associated with energy, serving as the nexus of American petroleum infrastructure for oil flowing from the Texas oil fields to the coast, and imported oil. The dark snaking area in Houston’s southeastern quadrant is the Houston Ship Channel, a transport artery lined with not just Texas’ or America’s, but the world’s densest concentration of refineries and petrochemical complexes. The American shale revolution is but the most recent source of energy into Houston. Shale producers in areas as far removed as Arkansas and Colorado are attempting to link their infrastructure to the Houston petroplex in the hopes of selling their output into this most connected of cities. To accommodate the influx, American refiners already have booked more than $35 billion in expansion projects for 2014-2015 alone.
For more on how shale energy and the American petroleum system is both being remade and remaking the world, read The Accidental Superpower, Chapters 7 and 8. Also look for related coverage in the upcoming books Beyond Shale and Surfing the Peak.