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Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of 579 square miles (1,500 km2). Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area—the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. with a population of approximately 6.1 million.

Houston is a diverse city with a large and growing international community. The metropolitan area is home to an estimated 1.1 million (21.4 percent) residents who were born outside the United States, with nearly two-thirds of the area's foreign-born population from south of the United States–Mexico border. Additionally, more than one in five foreign-born residents are from Asia. The city is home to the nation’s third largest concentration of consular offices, representing 86 countries.

Many annual events celebrate the diverse cultures of Houston. The largest and longest running is the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, held over 20 days from late February to early March, which happens to be the largest annual Livestock Show and Rodeo anywhere in the world. Another large celebration is the annual night-time Houston Pride Parade, held at the end of June. Other annual events include the Houston Greek Festival, Art Car Parade, the Houston Auto Show, the Houston International Festival, and the Bayou City Art Festival, which is considered to be one of the top five art festivals in the United States.

Houston received the official nickname of "Space City" in 1967 because it is the location of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Other nicknames often used by locals include "Bayou City," "Magnolia City," and "H-Town."

Arts and theatre

The Houston Theater District, located downtown, is home to nine major performing arts organizations and six performance halls. It is the second-largest concentration of theater seats in a downtown area in the United States. Houston is one of few United States cities with permanent, professional, resident companies in all major performing arts disciplines: opera (Houston Grand Opera), ballet (Houston Ballet), music (Houston Symphony Orchestra), and theater (The Alley Theatre). Houston is also home to folk artists, art groups and various small progressive arts organizations. Houston attracts many touring Broadway acts, concerts, shows, and exhibitions for a variety of interests. Facilities in the Theater District include the Jones Hall—home of the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Society for the Performing Arts—and the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

The Museum District's cultural institutions and exhibits attract more than 7 million visitors a year. Notable facilities the include The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Houston Zoo. Located near the Museum District are The Menil Collection, Rothko Chapel, and the Byzantine Fresco

Bayou Bend is a 14-acre (5.7 ha) facility of the Museum of Fine Arts that houses one of America's best collections of decorative art, paintings and furniture. Bayou Bend is the former home of Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg.

Venues across Houston regularly host local and touring rock, blues, country, dubstep, and Tejano musical acts. While Houston has never been a widely renowned for its music scene, Houston hip-hop has become a significant, independent music scene, influencing some larger Southern hip hop communities. Houston is also the home of chopped and screwed music.

Prominent artists from Houston include rock bands King's X and ZZ Top, sixties psychedelic rock band Red Krayola, folk-country singer/songwriter Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, country and western singers Kenny Rogers and Clint Black, actors Hilary Duff and Patrick Swayze, and indie piano rock band Blue October. Houston also had fledgling blues and folk scenes in the sixties and seventies. Notable blues performers included Lightnin' Hopkins, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, "Texas" Johnny Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Joe "Guitar" Hughes; many of whom recorded with hometown music label Peacock Records. Folk artists playing at Anderson Fair and the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in the sixties and seventies included longtime residents Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle and Guy Clark. The eighties and nineties produced punk and alternative rock groups The Judy's, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, AK-47, Verbal Abuse, Really Red, Culturcide, Dresden 45, the Pain Teens and the outside musician Jandek. The new millennium has seen a continuance of Houston Noise Bands with contemporary performers Jana Hunter and Indian Jewelry.

Tourism and recreation

The Theater District is a 17-block area in the center of downtown Houston that is home to the Bayou Place entertainment complex, restaurants, movies, plazas, and parks. Bayou Place is a large multilevel building containing full-service restaurants, bars, live music, billiards, and art house films. The Houston Verizon Wireless Theater stages live concerts, stage plays, and stand-up comedy.

Space Center Houston is the official visitors’ center of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. The Space Center has many interactive exhibits including moon rocks, a shuttle simulator, and presentations about the history of NASA's manned space flight program. Other tourist attractions include the Galleria (Texas's largest shopping mall located in the Uptown District), Old Market Square, the Downtown Aquarium, and Sam Houston Race Park. SplashTown Waterpark Houston is a water park located north of Houston. Earth Quest Adventures is a theme park planned to open in 2012/2013.

Houston is home to 337 parks including Hermann Park, Terry Hershey Park, Lake Houston Park, Memorial Park, Tranquility Park, Sesquicentennial Park, Discovery Green, and Sam Houston Park. Within Hermann Park are the Houston Zoo and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Sam Houston Park contains restored and reconstructed homes which were originally built between 1823 and 1905.

Of the 10 most populous U.S. cities, Houston has the most total area of parks and green space, 56,405 acres (228 km2) The city also has over 200 additional green spaces—totaling over 19,600 acres (79 km2) that are managed by the city—including the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. The Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark is a public skatepark owned and operated by the city of Houston, and is one of the largest skateparks in Texas consisting of 30,000 (2,800 m2) square foot in-ground facility. The Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park—located in the Uptown District of the city—serves as a popular tourist attraction, weddings, and various celebrations.

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