Founded in 1836, Houston is the county seat of Harris County. Most of its growth has occurred since 1950 making it a relatively young city. With a current population of just over 2 million, Houston is the 4th most populous U.S. city. The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown Metropolitan Statistical Area (Houston MSA) consists of 10 counties with a total population of about 6 million making it the 6th largest MSA in the U.S. According to some recent studies, Houston is the country’s most ethnically diverse city. A report in Kiplinger Personal Finance rates the Houston MSA as the number one place to live in the country. A strong economy, abundant jobs, reasonable living costs, and a multitude of entertainment amenities contribute to Houston’s high rating by Kiplinger. Similar criteria were used by Forbes in their July, 2012 article: “Houston Tops Our List of America’s Coolest Cities.”
Houston is located in the central part of eastern Texas approximately 50 miles northeast of Galveston Island and the Gulf of Mexico. Houston averages only 18 days per year with a low temperature of 32° F or less. And, since the climate is moderated by the city’s proximity to the Gulf, temperatures exceed 100° F for just a few days each summer. With this mild climate, Houstonians enjoy outdoor activities year round. The mild climate also results in a long growing season which is aided by an average rainfall of about 50 inches per year.
Economy and Cost of Living
Houston’s economy is robust and well diversified. While Houston is the energy capital of the world (with offices and manufacturing sites for most of the leading oil, gas, and chemical companies in the U.S) it is also home to major firms involved in financial services, manufacturing, aerospace, biotechnology and health care, transportation, and shipping to name a few. Due its favorable location and the diversity of its economy, Houston experienced relatively mild downside effects due to the great recession of 2008.
Houston offers a low cost of living while maintaining a high quality of life. According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the average cost of living in the Houston MSA is 9.6% below the nationwide average, largely due to housing costs that are 18.8% below the average.
Arts and Culture
Houston is one of few U.S. cities with resident companies in all four major performing arts – opera, ballet, orchestra, and drama. Houston’s theater district is located on the north side of downtown, about three miles from South Main Baptist Church. The Wortham Theater Center is the home for the world renowned Houston Grand Opera. Founded in 1955, HGO performs October through May each year. The Wortham Theater is also the performance venue for the Houston Ballet which presents more than 75 performances during their eight month season each year. The Houston Ballet has been widely acclaimed during international tours throughout Europe, Canada, and Asia.
The Houston Symphony, an internationally acclaimed orchestra with 90 full-time musicians, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013. In addition to a full schedule of concerts in the spacious and beautiful Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, the Houston Symphony has maintained a tradition of performing free concerts at Miller Outdoor Theater during the summer months. The Houston Symphony Chorus is a volunteer group of singers and serves as the official choral unit of the Houston Symphony.
Houston’s premier drama company, the Alley Theatre, was founded in 1947. The Alley’s resident company of actors normally presents 11 major productions each year at their two-stage theater complex located in the downtown theater district. In addition to the Alley, there are many smaller theater companies, both professional and volunteer, that perform throughout the greater Houston area.
South Main member Lovie Smith-Wright is a percussionist for Theatre Under the Stars, Houston’s leading musical theater company. During the past few years, several members of South Main Baptist Church have performed with:
In addition, SMBC member Stephen Roddy is Founder and Director of Houston Children’s Chorus.
Houston’s Museum District is only one mile south of South Main Baptist Church. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s premiere art museum, houses more than 63,000 works of art created by cultures across the globe, from ancient times to today. They also bring world renowned travelling exhibitions to Houston. Other museums in the district include:
Space Center Houston, an interactive and educational museum about space flight history and technology, is located less than 30 miles away at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake.
Sports and Recreation
Four major league sports teams are based in Houston. Major league baseball is represented by the Houston Astros who play their home games in the family-friendly environs of Minute Maid Park. This retractable roof stadium is located in downtown Houston. The two-time world-champion Houston Rockets of the National Basketball League (NBA) play their home games in Toyota Center. During the past three years, the SMBC Sanctuary Choir has sung the Star Spangled Banner a total of three times prior to Astros and Rockets games.
The Houston Texans play in the AFC-South conference of the National Football League. Home field for the Texans is Reliant Stadium, the first retractable-roof NFL stadium. The Houston Dynamo soccer team was the 2006-2007 Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Champion. This year is their inaugural season in the brand new BBVA Compass Stadium located on the east side of downtown Houston.
Houston’s collegiate teams round out the local sports options with competition in most major sports. Houston’s major universities include:
- Houston Baptist University Huskies
- Rice University Owls
- University of Houston Cougars
- Texas Southern University Tigers
In addition, University of Texas, Texas A&M University, and Baylor University sporting events are all within a three hour drive from Houston.
Houston’s location and mild climate are conducive to year round outdoor recreational activities. Thousands of acres of park lands are available to those who enjoy jogging, golf, soccer, softball, and picnics. The City of Houston Bikeway Program is a 345 mile network of interconnected bike lanes and bike paths traversing the city. Several fresh water lakes, within a one hour drive from Houston, are available for fishing, water skiing, and boating. Fishing, sailing, and power boating are also popular in the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay which are also close to Houston.
Options for elementary, middle, and high school are frequently an important consideration when choosing where to live in a major city like Houston. There are 20 public school districts and 45 charter schools that are largely or entirely within Harris County. Most offer excellent opportunities for children to study and learn. In addition, there are 185 private schools in Harris County. For higher education, there are approximately 12 community colleges, 10 major universities, 4 medical schools, and 3 law schools within the Houston MSA. The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston have nationally recognized, world-class artist/teachers and students with exceptional musical talent. Both have acoustically magnificent concert halls for faculty and student recitals.
The world-famous Texas Medical Center (TMC) is the largest medical complex in the world and the focal point of health care in Houston. The Medical Center is only two miles south of South Main Baptist Church with easy access using Houston METRORail. This internationally recognized community of healing, medical education, and research is the home to many of the country’s best hospitals and physicians. In addition to the TMC, the entire region has attracted highly proficient health care professionals. The Houston MSA has more than 120 hospitals and 13,000 practicing physicians.
Our Neighborhood – Midtown Houston
South Main Baptist Church is located in Midtown Houston, situated directly between Downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center – the two largest employment centers in the area with over 200,000 jobs. Historically, Midtown was the second residential neighborhood developed in Houston, following the initial settlement of Allen’s Landing. The area experienced explosive growth through the 1940s. However, with the “oil bust” of the 1980s Midtown experienced significant urban decline. Beginning in the mid-1990s, urban renewal efforts have been successful in reversing this negative trend, and Midtown Houston is once again a highly desirable and thriving area. Thanks largely to efforts of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority and the Midtown Management District, both new construction and restoration of older sties continue to enhance the prestige of Midtown. These organizations envision “a pedestrian oriented district where entertainment facilities, sidewalk cafes, specialty shops, museums and libraries capture the attention of Houstonians and visitors alike.”
Today, Midtown can be accurately described as a vibrant, mixed-use community with a culturally diverse population. The area has over 40 restaurants, a broad array of retail establishments, and several new apartment and townhome buildings. Several of these buildings are “vertically integrated” with retail establishments on the first level and apartments on upper levels. Midtown has ample green spaces – parks and walking trails, and several art galleries. The area is served by Houston METRORail facilitating the commute from Midtown Houston to downtown and the Texas Medical Center.
Houston’s residential neighborhoods and business establishments are often referred to as being either “inside the loop” or “outside the loop” where the word “loop” refers to Interstate Highway 610 which completely encircles the inner portions of the city. Approximately half of South Main’s membership lives “inside the loop” in neighborhoods such as West University Place, Southhampton, Bellaire, and Meyerland. South Main Baptist Church can also be regarded as a regional church since another large percentage of our members lives “outside the loop.” These members commute from areas a bit further away such as Memorial and Katy on the west side, Sugar Land on the southwest, Pearland and Clear Lake City on the south side, and as far north as The Woodlands and Kingwood located near Houston’s Intercontinental Airport. Houston’s extensive freeway system makes it relatively easy to “get around” the city. Members who live 20 or more miles away from South Main are usually able to make the drive in less than 30 minutes at any time other than the morning and evening “rush hour.”