Dr. Mindy Fullilove, professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University, is the author of Root Shock (1998), which examined urban renewal's effects on Pittsburgh's Hill District and other similar neighborhoods around the country. She has recently been revisiting the Hill for her next book, Elements of Urban Restoration, to find out how the neighborhood is healing its wounds.
What is your new book about?
The title is Elements of Urban Restoration: Repairing America's Cities After Blight, Flight, and Disinvestment. … It's directed at the major finding of my research, which is that the dividing of America's cities by race and class led to real fractures in the infrastructure. This fracture of the city is a fundamental problem for the health of everyone. So the goal is, how do we re-knit the city across these real physical, as well as psychological and social barriers, of race and class that have emerged in our urban landscape.
What kind of psychological impact did urban renewal have on Hill residents?
It's a huge, huge stress to have such a large chunk of urban land destroyed. It's a devastating experience. People … lose their place-based relationships and way of lives. Those are just extremely painful losses that really stay in people's minds, and they're hard to get over.
The Civic Arena is likely to be demolished. How might witnessing its destruction affect neighborhood residents?
The Civic Arena itself is a hated building by people in the Hill. But something is going to get built there. So I think it depends on the extent to which what gets built there is actually meant for all the citizens. If it re-knits the Hill to Downtown and it's a lively, open, delightful urban neighborhood where black people feel like they could live and be welcomed, then it will really be a success. But if they just tear down the Civic Arena and build … a gated community for really wealthy people … it could become an even worse symbol of exclusion and hatred and division.
How is the Hill District today different from the Hill you observed while researching for Root Shock 15 years ago?
One of the really striking differences is just the vitality that the [Hill District] Consensus Group has developed over the years. It's just remarkable. Fourteen years ago, when I first went to a Consensus Group meeting, it was a much, much smaller, less dynamic organization, and it was ignored.
What is the current emotional state of Hill residents?
[The discussion about redevelopment] has lifted people's spirits. I think that the community is much healthier than it was. … But so much depends on what they put where the Civic Arena is, and what they do about jobs. If [redevelopment] is done well, the Hill could be a role model for all of America.