Root Shock

How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It

Foreword by Carlos Peterson, Mary Travis Bassett

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Root Shock examines 3 different U.S. cities to unmask the crippling results of decades-old disinvestment in communities of color and the urban renewal practices that ultimately destroyed these neighborhoods for the advantage of developers and the elite.

Like a sequel to the prescient warnings of urbanist Jane Jacobs, Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove reveals the disturbing effects of decades of insensitive urban renewal projects on communities of color. For those whose homes and neighborhoods were bulldozed, the urban modernization projects that swept America starting in 1949 were nothing short of an assault. Vibrant city blocks—places rich in culture—were torn apart by freeways and other invasive development, devastating the lives of poor residents.

Fullilove passionately describes the profound traumatic stress—the "root shock"—that results when a neighborhood is demolished. She estimates that federal and state urban renewal programs, spearheaded by business and real estate interests, destroyed 1,600 African American districts in cities across the United States. But urban renewal didn't just disrupt black communities: it ruined their economic health and social cohesion, stripping displaced residents of their sense of place as well. It also left big gashes in the centers of cities that are only now slowly being repaired.

Focusing on the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the Central Ward in Newark, and the small Virginia city of Roanoke, Dr. Fullilove argues powerfully against policies of displacement. Understanding the damage caused by root shock is crucial to coping with its human toll and helping cities become whole.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, is a research psychiatrist at New York State Psychiatric Institute and professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University. She is the author of five books, including Urban Alchemy.

Carlos F. Peterson, is a distinguished artist and architectural draftsman and award-winning illustrator for the steel engineering industry of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Mary Travis Bassett is a public health researcher and commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.


Title Root Shock
Subtitle How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It
Edition 2
Publisher New Village Press
BISAC Subject Heading PSY000000 PSYCHOLOGY
Dewey (abridged) 300-399 Social sciences
Audience 01 General / trade
Credit Mindy Thompson Fullilove
Title First Published 01 November 2016
Subject Scheme Identifier Code      01 Dewey: SOC026030 SOCIAL SCIENCE
Includes Index; Bibliography; Notes
Links Root Shock
Original Title Root Shock
Original Sub Title How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It
Original Language English
Original Publisher Random House
Original Publication 2004


Foreword by Dr. Mary Travis Bassett [new for this edition]

Foreword by Carlos F. Peterson [new for this edition]




In their own words: ZENOBIA FERGUSON



In their own words: CHARLES MEADOWS




In their own words: ERNEST THOMPSON





Technical Note



Additional Materials

NPR Interview with Mindy Fullilove: "'Root Shock': Urban Renewal and Black Neighborhoods"

NPR Interview with Mindy Fullilove: "'Root Shock': Urban Renewal and Black Neighborhoods"

Mindy Fullilove essay in The Nature of Cities: "An Antidote for the Unjust City: Planning to Stay"

Mindy Fullilove essay in The Nature of Cities: "An Antidote for the Unjust City: Planning to Stay"

WNYC Interview with Mindy Fullilove: "How Urban Renewal Destroys Entire Communities"


The Washington Post
Jun 10, 2004
"Though Fullilove's focus is on renewal's effect on blacks, as it should be, she also emphasizes that razed, demoralized, crime-haunted cities are a curse on all of us and that forces other than

- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jun 27, 2004
This is a book that many in Pittsburgh have no need to read. An account of the demolition of the Lower Hill District in the 1950s, it is a history many Pittsburghers experienced firsthand. Yet the book by Columbia University psychiatrist Mindy Thompson Fullilove is much more than a book about Pittsburgh. The author investigates the massive renewal projects that were intended to save urban America after World War II.

- Christopher Briem, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rio On Watch
Oct 7, 2015
"Fullilove's narrative of the failures of urban renewal in the United States is detailed, enlightening and poignant in its own right. When compared to the current injustices in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, however, this narrative is even more poignant because of the striking similarities–and warnings. Fullilove urges us to see "a city is not so much a solid, however solid it looks, [but] a fluid, constantly

- David Robertson, Rio On Watch

Writing Cities
Feb 8, 2016
"This is one of the few books that really tries to come to grips with the deep psychological trauma caused by mass displacement — what it calls Root Shock. It does so through the prism of urban renewal and reminds us of the scale of it. The program ran  from 1949 to 1973, and during this time the U.S. government bulldozed 2,500 neighborhoods in 993 cities, dispossessing an estimated million people. They were supposed to be slum clearances, they were supposed to create space for new housing. Few of these clearances did, and we are still coming to grips with what was lost. But there is a bitter truth behind the switch from 'urban' to 'Negro' removal — it is the Black community that lost the most and that continues to be most impacted by it all.

- Andrea Gibbon, Writing Cities

We Also Suggest

Urban Alchemy
Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities
Mindy Thompson Fullilove