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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the nation's largest cities is debating where to put an extra million people. That's how much the Houston area has grown in this decade, and more people are expected there. So NPR's Steve Inskeep is reporting from Houston this week. It's part of the Urban Frontier, our occasional look at how cities change and grow. And we reached Steve for a little preview of the next couple of days. And Steve, I'm hearing all this noise, which is from where you're standing, traffic it sounds like, but where are you?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

I am on the edge of Beltway 8, one of the ring roads around Houston, and it's a road that's under construction. They're completing the final link and already traffic is going by on several lanes roaring past, even as they build overpasses and bridges and complete this massive road, which is going to link Houston to a lot of new development that's planned out here. You see signs by patches of woods and fields where people are planning to bring up new housing developments even in this recession.

MONTAGNE: And Houston, of course still growing.

INSKEEP: Yes, the unemployment rate has gone up here, but not quite as high as other parts of the country. There's still a lot of jobs. You have the oil industry. Other energy firms like wind power have headquarters here. There's health care, there's the Port of Houston a lot more, and it has attracted people from all over the world, somewhat around the United States, a whole lot of people from Mexico, and a also a growing community from Asia, places like China and India. This is an increasingly diverse city, one of the most diverse cities in the country by some accounts. And that's something that Houston, by most accounts, has been able to absorb rather well, although as we're going to hear this week, it also leaves a lot of people scrambling to save the Houston they know.

MONTAGNE: And I gather, Steve, you'll also be talking about how people build the city that they live in, in the sense that doesn't Houston have a reputation as a place that allows very free development, you can build just about anything anywhere?

INSKEEP: Oh yeah, that's the reputation. Now, you see signs of that here where you've got woods and fields that are about to become more housing developments, but it is more complicated than that. There are some rules. Nevertheless, developers have a lot of freedom and that's something that Houston is actually debating as a mayoral campaign gets underway and also debating in other ways. This largely unplanned city is very affordable and attractive to a lot of people. That's why many people are moving here. But all these big houses and long commutes on highways like the one under construction near me here also use enormous amounts of energy, way more than people in New York or Los Angeles. We're going to be asking this week how Houston faces that contradiction.

MONTAGNE: And that will be beginning tomorrow. Thanks very much, Steve, looking forward to it.

INSKEEP: Me too.

MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Steve Inskeep speaking to us from Houston. You can learn more about Steve's trip to Houston and follow along with him to places he'll be visiting at our Web site, npr.org.

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