What is root shock?

People who have been displaced experience "root shock."  Root shock is the traumatic stress reaction to the loss of some or all of one's emotional ecosystem.  Root shock can follow natural disaster, development-induced displacement, war, and changes that play out slowly such as those that accompany gentrification.  (Photo by Richard Saunders, Pittsburgh Photographic Project)

The concept of "root shock" was adapted from gardening by Dr. Mindy Fullilove.  She learned about root shock from people who had been displaced by urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s.  Her research was published in the book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It.  

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Crisis in the New York/New Jersey area after Hurricane Sandy, October 2012
Hurricane Sandy came through the NY/NJ area as a 900 sq mile storm, with 90 mph winds.  It did something no storm had done before: it made a left turn from the Atlantic, moving ashore at Atlantic City.  It pushed a "wall of water" 4-8 feet high up the shores of the ocean and the area's many rivers.  This created a "mini tsunami," as it was called by Hoboken's mayor.  The breadth of the storm has led to unprecedented problems of the regional infrastructure of roads, railroads, electrical grid and housing, to name a few domains.  A complex repair process has been launched.  But the context of the storm -- in a new era of extreme weather -- means that the repair has to consider new ways of doing business.  This is root shock on two levels: the immediate displacement from daily life, and the need to reorganize how the region will operate in an era of frequent and intense storms.  The costs of doing business just changed.  How are these changes to be done equitably?  This is an issue demands attention.

Crisis in Japan, March 2011
The massive destruction created by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis have created root shock at a massive scale.  How is such upheaval to be repaired?  After the massive destruction in the US Gulf Coast area caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, our team created a list of the "Nine Habits of Highly Effective Recovery."  Here is our list:
        Acknowledge everyone’s suffering, including your own. 
        Practice democracy-in-diaspora using radios, newspapers and the internet. 
        Build ecological cities, beautiful, sustainable, human-sized 
        Ensure every citizen has the right to return home. 
        Ensure that local companies and workers rebuild the affected areas. 
        Give excellent medical care to all. 
        Support families as they re-establish themselves. 
        Celebrate the area’s history and culture. 
        Be generous with the paper clips. 
We have also observed that recovery from massive disasters takes many years, but the public loses interest after a year or so.  We can length the outside support by supporting personal attachment.  In getting support for the Gulf, we proposed that local leaders create a "Mardi Gras Foundation" to develop national support for rebuilding, drawing on everyone's love of the Mardi Gras tradition.  For Haiti, we helped develop a "Hearts for Haiti" program that works to develop long term commitment by sharing the story of the disaster and the people's love of the country with others.  For Japan, we propose that a sister cities program be set up, to match cities around the world with Japanese cities that have to rebuild.  Some of these are small fishing villages, so it might seem unusual for a tiny place to have "sister cities," many much much larger, in 30 countries. Indeed, it's not the way sister city programs usually work.  But this program would get people connected to a local story that they could follow and help.  
Aggravating problems through repeated upheaval

While visiting Roanoke, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and other cities, Mindy Fullilove learned other stories of displacement caused by disinvestment, gentrification, HOPE VI, mass incarceration and natural disaster.  She worked with physicist/ecologist Rodrick Wallace to concepturalize the effects of multiple displacements on the city.  They gave this process the name "serial displacement."   

The New York Academy of Medicine has established a "Working Group on Serial Displacement and Health."  Headed by leading scholars in this area, including Fullilove and Wallace, the Working Group is organizing a conference as its first activity.  This conference, on Housing, Health and Serial Displacement, was held on April 8th.  Click here for conference summary

Main Street, NJ

Dr. Mindy Fullilove is now studying community upheaval through the lens of Main Street.  You can follow her visits to Main Streets in New Jersey and around the US and in other countries by visiting her blog, Main Street NJ
Many community groups are fighting one or another form of displacement.  All of these efforts are important for creating the stability that people need to have healthy lives and create economic prosperity.  Citizens in Brooklyn have been engaged in a 6 year struggle against egregious development at one of the busiest intersections in the world.  Filmmaker Michael Galinsky and his co-workers have recently posted an exciting trailer.  Check it out!
The idea of "root shock" has helped people conceptualize both the prevention of displacement and its recovery. The concept of root shock was used by the Indian Red Cross after the Southeast Asian Tsunami.  Schoolchildren in India helped to make this video about root shock and recovery.

YouTube Video