Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It

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Like a sequel to the prescient warnings of urbanist Jane Jacobs, Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove reveals the disturbing outcome of decades of urban renewal projects to 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 blocksplaces rich in culturewere torn apart by freeways and other invasive development, blatantly devastating the lives of poor residents.

Fullilove passionately describes the profound traumatic stressthe 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: the anger it caused led to riots that sent whites fleeing for the suburbs, stripping them 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.