On Tuesday 11 August, the ACC and District Six Museum co-hosted a conversation between Bonita Bennett and Rike Sitas with clinical psychiatrist, Dr Mindy Thompson Fullilove. Dr Fullilove’s research into HIV/Aids in the US in the 1980s led to her interest in the psychology of place. Her subsequent research focused on urban planning and displacement, concerned with the continual segregation of people through urban renewal strategies.
In the session hosted at the District Six Homecoming Centre, Dr Fullilove explored the notion of root shock in the context of New York. She warned of the ‘shapeshifting of oppression’, arguing that urban renewal and regeneration programmes can be as destructive as forced removals. She argued that healthy communities are built over time and should be enabled rather than dispersed, and that people should under no circumstances be moved against their will, regardless of how destitute their living conditions may appear. She argued that communities are formed under the greatest duress and repeatedly moving people ‘breaks someone’s leg, and then while they are healing, breaks the other leg, and then the arms…’
The discussion focused largely on applying her thinking to spatial inequality in South Africa broadly, and District Six more specifically. This was used as a way to grapple with the somewhat irreconcilable tensions between the logic of capitalism and social justice. The discussion therefore challenged the underlying development assumptions of the property market and neoliberalism, and maintained that dignity can only be achieved through re-humanising the planning agenda.
Dr Fullilove’s research accounts over 30 years of research into urban development strategies, and the gentrification of cities such as New York, and shows how these strategies systematically undermine the urban poor and rich alike, and have a devastating effect on community health. This is an important caution for urban regeneration strategies all over the world, but particularly in Cape Town where the spatial legacy of apartheid has yet to be dismantled.