Sprawling, brash, friendly, and prosperous, Houston is arguably Texas's most cosmopolitan city. The forceful, wildcatter temperament that transformed what was once a swamp near the junction of the Buffalo and White Oak bayous into the nation's fourth-largest city also made it a world energy center and pushed exploration into outer space—indeed, the first words spoken from the moon broadcast its name throughout the universe: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
This same wild spirit (and a lack of zoning laws) explains much about the unrestricted growth that resulted in the city's patchwork layout: It's not unusual to find a luxury apartment complex next to a muffler repair shop, or a palm reader's storefront adjacent to a church. In the past few years a migration has begun back to the city's historic core, and new residential buildings and loft conversions are popping up all over downtown and midtown, with new restaurants, shops, and services following. Four-to-a-lot town houses are replacing quaint bungalows in older neighborhoods like Montrose and the Heights, and though some charm has been lost, the city's center has been recharged.
Houston is an international business hub and the energy capital of the United States; only New York City is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters. The massive Texas Medical Center, with 46 member institutions, is the largest in the world, drawing patients (and doctors) from many countries. Top-notch museums, galleries, performance halls, and resident opera, ballet, and symphony companies affirm the city's commitment to creativity and expression, and its many ethnic restaurants add to the global flavor. Houston's millions of trees, including majestic old oaks, soften and beautify the flat and often unremarkable landscape, which is too often punctuated by tawdry billboards, generic strip centers, and other visual blight (especially along its freeways).
Historic Galveston, 50 mi south of Houston, is itself experiencing somewhat of a beachside boom, from its historic Strand District to new communities all along the waterfront.