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My own private infrastructure problem here in Houston this week.

Sitting here in central Houston this week, with no water, spotty internet, and the looming fear that we would lose power and heat, I kept thinking about John Snow.

John Snow, for those of you who aren’t up on your urban history, was the guy who solved the mystery of the cholera epidemic in London in the 1850s, which took thousands of lives. Most experts thought it was transmitted somehow through the air, a condition often called “miasma” in those days. But Snow, who was a practicing physician with a knack for research, proved that cholera was actually transmitted through…


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The Ferry Building in San Francisco before and after demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway

From the hills behind the City Hall in my adopted hometown of Ventura, California, it’s less than 1,000 yards southward to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a constrained piece of topography that, as I have written elsewhere, creates a small urban gem of a downtown: streetscapes, restaurants, stores, offices, residences, parking garages, a beachfront promenade — all within eight or so square blocks, creating a lively streetlife that connects a historic downtown to the beach.

But this narrow slot is also a critical part of California’s coastal transportation corridor. Laced throughout the thousand yards are five local streets; the Union Pacific…


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The Esquire Ballroom on Hempstead Highway in Houston

I’ve published a lot of writing in my life, but nothing has ever compared with the outpouring of responses I got to my Medium essay, “Why I Always Associate ‘Born To Run’ With Houston”. Both music and place are powerful drivers of emotional connection, and I guess that’s what makes the combination of the two so incredibly powerful. Which is maybe why I turned out to be totally wrong about Willie and Houston.

A lot of the responses came from people who have listened to “Born To Run” while driving along freeways — especially the New Jersey Turnpike. (Though nobody…


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An oil refinery in Houston

You’ve heard that old cliché that you can always remember where you were when you first heard of a favorite song. It’s a funny twist on how music and place interact with each other — you have very powerful associations with a location because of a song, even though the musicians who wrote and recorded the song have never been to that place and probably never even heard of it.

But music can also draw you to a particular place — think about how many Beatles fans show up in Liverpool to traverse Penny Lane — and it can even…


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The Phoenix Building, formerly the Auburn Savings Bank, an iconic structure in Downtown Auburn, N.Y.

When I posted my essay about urban renewal in my hometown of Auburn, N.Y., back in October, I honestly thought I was just giving voice to something I’d felt for a long time: How urban renewal and construction of the arterial road through Auburn in the 1970s had created a kind of trauma for me and shaped my thinking as an urban planner.

But I was not prepared for the outpouring of interest that the essay generated. The Citizen, Auburn’s local newspaper, printed the essay as a three-part series. I did a podcast for Fingerlakes1.com that Josh Durso (@FLXJosh) promoted…


Every minute of every day, every single person is immersed in what we typically call “place”.

We are always situated in a particular location — our home, our car, our workplace, the places we typically shop, our church or other place of worship — and most often these are the same locations from one day to the next. At least during non-COVID times, we’re constantly traveling from one place to another — from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the house to the garage, from home to work, from one store to another, from our front door to a nearby…


How My Hometown’s Failed Urban Renewal Strategy Shaped Me As An Urbanist

One warm summer’s day in 1974, when I was a college kid interning as a cub reporter at what was then known as the Auburn Citizen-Advertiser, I left the paper’s new building on Dill Street in downtown Auburn, New York, and walked three blocks to the City Hall on South Street to cover a meeting of the City Council — or, to be technically accurate, the Auburn Urban Renewal Agency, or AURA, which was an offshoot of the council.

In my recollection, it was like traversing a war zone. As I walked down Dill Street to North Street, on my…


At 4 a.m. on a Thursday last July — in the midst of nationwide turmoil about the heroes we create when we put statues in public parks — a large bronze statue of Father Junipero Serra was removed from a highly visible location in front of Ventura’s classic Beaux-Arts City Hall. But it wasn’t toppled by protesters.

Yes, there had been a lot of protests — not only from the descendants of native Chumash whom Serra enslaved but also from Father Serra’s defenders, who created their own group called Defend Serra. But in the end, it wasn’t the protesters who…


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My favorite street is closed to cars at the moment. But not to people. And that’s just fine with me.

Recently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council in Ventura, California, extended what is technically known as the “Temporary Outdoor Business Expansion Program” — more popularly known as “Main Street Moves”. Simply put, because indoor dining is still prohibited in California, Main Street in Downtown Ventura has been blocked off to cars so that restaurants can put tables on out on the street.

Main Street Moves is a whopping success. And it shows what makes a truly…


William Alexander Fulton (1896–1955), for whom I was named, was for most of his life a jeweler in Auburn and lived a very normal life. But between 1917 and 1919, Bill Fulton was a member of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. He chose to enlist rather than be drafted — in the parlance of the time, he was a “went” instead of a “sent”.

During that time, he sent many letters, postcards, and souvenirs — many of them to my father, Robert H. Fulton Jr., who was a toddler at the time. Most of the letters were…

Bill Fulton

Author, urban planner & former politician. Hometown: Auburn, NY. Mayor: Ventura, CA. Planning Dir: San Diego. Now Dir of Kinder Inst at Rice U. in Houston.

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