Houston is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Texas and the fourth most populous city in the United States, with a census-estimated population of 2.312 million in 2017. It is the most populous city in the Southern United States and on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Located in Southeast Texas near Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, it is the seat of Harris County and the principal city of the Greater Houston metropolitan area, which is the fifth most populous MSA in the United States and the second most populous in Texas after the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex. With a land area of 599.59 square miles (1,552.9 km²), Houston is the ninth most expansive city in the United States.
Houston is located 165 miles (266 km) east of Austin, 112 miles (180 km) west of the Louisiana border, and 250 miles (400 km) south of Dallas. The city has a total area of 627 square miles (1,620 km²); this comprises 599.59 square miles (1,552.9 km²) of land and 22.3 square miles (58 km²) covered by water. The Piney Woods are north of Houston. Most of Houston is located on the gulf coastal plain, and its vegetation is classified as temperate grassland and forest. Much of the city was built on forested land, marshes, swamp, or prairie and are all still visible in surrounding areas. Flat terrain and extensive greenfield development have combined to worsen flooding. Downtown stands about 50 feet (15 m) above sea level, and the highest point in far northwest Houston is about 125 feet (38 m) in elevation. The city once relied on groundwater for its needs, but land subsidence forced the city to turn to ground-level water sources such as Lake Houston, Lake Conroe, and Lake Livingston. The city owns surface water rights for 1.20 billion gallons of water a day in addition to 150 million gallons a day of groundwater.
The Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research, a think tank, has described Greater Houston as "one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse metropolitan areas in the country." A 2012 Kinder Institute report found that, based on the evenness of population distribution between the four major racial groups in the United States (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, and Asian), Greater Houston was the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the United States, ahead of New York City. In 2017, non-Hispanic whites made up 38% of the population of the Houston metropolitan area, Hispanics 36%, African-Americans 17%, and Asians 9%.
Houston's multiculturalism, fueled by large waves of immigrants, has been attributed to its relatively low cost of living, strong job market, proximity to Latin America, and role as a hub for refugee resettlement. At least 145 languages are spoken by city residents. Greater Houston is one of the youngest metropolitan areas in the nation, with an estimated average age of 33.5 in 2014, compared with the national average of 37.4; the city's youthfulness has been attributed to an influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants into Texas. As of 2017, an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants reside in the Houston area, comprising nearly 9% of the metropolitan population.
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