From Publishers Weekly
Fullilove (The House of Joshua) looks at the effect of urban renewal on black neighborhoods across the country and finds a well of emotional pain in this engagingly written but uneven book. According to Fullilove, the federal Housing Act of 1949 and its bulldozing of neighborhoods to make room for malls, freeways and parking lots left African-Americans at an enormous social, economic and emotional disadvantage. The experience of losing one's roots, she notes, "does not end with emergency treatment, but will stay with the individual for a lifetime." To illustrate this point, Fullilove, a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University, travels to gutted neighborhoods in Philadelphia; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Roanoke, Va., and intersperses her analysis with before and after photos and testimony from displaced residents. "What must be heard in these stories of urban renewal-their emotional core-is the howl of amputation, the anguish at calamity unassuaged," she writes. She laments the disappearance of the overlapping networks that once existed in small black communities: the corner stores, shared gardens and neighbors who "automatically came." Urban renewal may have allowed some black families to move to nicer homes or neighborhoods, she concludes, but "the buffering effect of the kindness was lost." Fullilove is at her best conveying the emotions of displaced residents and their mixed feelings about relocation, gentrification and the loss of community ties. She is less successful in bringing in citations from her own studies in health policy, as well as the work of historically various urban planners such as Michel Cantal-Dupart, Georges-Eugene Haussmann and Jane Addams. The result is a somewhat disjointed examination of a complicated subject that isn't quite for general readers and isn't quite for academics, either.
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*Starred Review* As a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia, Fullilove brings a perhaps unconventional but ideal resume to an understanding of the cultural devastation, or "root shock," that urban renewal has brought upon the African American community. By the author's estimate, some 1,600 black neighborhoods nationwide were demolished by urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. In their place were erected interstate highway networks, sports stadiums, office towers, woeful public housing, and vast public-works projects--which wiped out black neighborhoods altogether, split them apart, or isolated them from the rest of their communities. Focusing on specific black neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Newark, Philadelphia, and Roanoke, Virginia, the author brings together a patchwork of oral histories, aerial photographs, charts, and personal narrative to connect the dots between a prewar black community that was richly complex and mutually supportive and a twenty-first-century community at violent odds with itself. "How easy it is to hurt each other," one interviewee explains, "because we are not that close anymore. We are not family anymore." Solutions are not easy, of course, but Fullilove puts forth an aesthetic of true "urban renewal" from which urban planners and thinking citizens can draw inspiration. Notwithstanding its shortcomings of East Coast bias and loose organization, Root Shock brings transformative insights to this American dilemma. Alan Moores
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