Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Main Street, Wall Street: Occupy for Root Shock

In the years that I've been strolling Main Streets, I've watched the recession hit and it's been a hard hit. In the common parlance, Main Street is the antonym of Wall Street, both as places and as sets of people. With the recession and the concentration of wealth, Main Street has gotten poorer and Wall Street has gotten obscenely richer. This has shaken Main Street's way of life. Foreclosures have taken people's homes, unemployment has left them with no money to spend for food, shelter or clothes, and the hostility of the right has left them -- us -- with no hope of a safety net in times of troubles. Eric Fullilove, an economist and planner, described this as "root shock," using the term I coined to describe the painful disorientation and confusion people experience after the destruction of their neighborhoods. I studied root shock in cities that had undertaken urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. People whose neighborhoods had been bulldozed still suffered from the pain of that loss. They told me about losing not only their homes, but also their social networks, political organizations, friendships, even close ties to family were disrupted. As I describe in my book, Root Shock, the costs of root shock were astronomical, and they had not been remediated. Eric's assertion that the current economic dislocations are causing root shock offered me a new way to look at the impromptu demonstrations going on now and spreading all over the world. In New York they have the title "Occupy Wall Street." Demonstrators in other cities have attached their city name to "Occupy." While it might seem that the "occupy" is simply indicating that the demonstrators plan to go and stay for a while, I think that the "occupy" can be interpreted as a definitive cure for the root shock we are all suffering. The cause of root shock is the loss of all or part of one's emotional ecosystem. The cure: to get settled in a new place. What better place for uprooted Main Street to seek new roots than Wall Street?

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