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.
Title Root Shock
Subtitle How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It
urban renewal -- "highways, planned shrinkage, gentrification, densification, economic restructuring -- all are profoundly important processes that reshape cities." Her proposed solutions have a considerable pie-in-the-sky quality to them, but that doesn't really matter. What counts is throwing light on the problem, and this Fullilove does with authority and passion."
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.
By documenting the profound loss of community that resulted from these projects, it's a scathing indictment of urban policy in the United States, past and present.
The uprooted communities -- the author estimates there are more than 1,600 across the country -- were concentrated in the African-American communities of America's large cities.
The consistent theme is that the wholesale displacement of neighborhoods had an impact more traumatic and longer-lasting than is understood.
"Root shock ... ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all the directions of the compass," Fullilove writes. It caused the destruction of the interconnections that "were essential to the survival of the community."
"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
taking new shapes as we clear and build, clear and build." She warns that a rigid apartheid-like system leads to greater distress. Her remedies include being conscious of the subtle divisions that are reinforced by public policies, like race and class, and building sufficient quality affordable housing, something both Brazil and the US have failed to do well."
"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.
Because she is able to listen, she is able to describe the ways that people are connected both to buildings, but also to each other. I love how from multiple angles, the human connections to the earth, to the built environment and to each other always emerge as key to lives well-lived, whether looking at permaculture or public space or psychology."