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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.  

For recent presentations, click here.
For more reading, click here

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.


Aggravating root shock 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 established a "Working Group on Serial Displacement and Health."  Headed by leading scholars in this area, including Fullilove and Wallace, the Working Group organized a conference as its first activity.  This conference, on Housing, Health and Serial Displacement, was held on April 8th, 2009.  Click here for conference summary.  The working group also edited a special issue of the Journal of Urban Health.  See the "Reading about displacement" for a paper on this topic by Fullilove and Wallace.

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!
Repairing cities damaged by repeated upheaval

Based on visits to many cities and work with 10 "co-storytellers," Mindy Fullilove proposed that we can heal our cities using nine "elements of urban restoration."  These are described in her book, Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities, New Village Press, 2013.  

Mindy Fullilove talking about Urban Alchemy in Atlanta.