January Narrative Medicine Rounds with Mindy Fullilove

“Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All,” a talk by social psychiatrist Mindy Thompson Fullilove

For our first Narrative Medicine Rounds in 2021, we were honored to welcome Mindy Thompson Fullilove, MD, LFAPA, Hon AIA, a social psychiatrist and professor of urban policy and health at The New School.  Since 1986, she has conducted research on AIDS and other epidemics of poor communities, with a special interest in the relationship between the collapse of communities and decline in health. Professor Fullilove spoke about her recent book Main Street: How a City’s Heart Connects Us All, which was published last fall by New Village Press. Our moderator was writer and urbanist Andy Merrifield, whose newest book is Marx, Dead and Alive: Reading ‘Capital’ in Precarious Times. Joining in the discussion was Peter Walsh, one of the owners of Coogan’s, a well-known Irish bar and restaurant in the Washington Heights area of New York City that closed in March 2020.

Main Street is a book by Mindy Thompson Fullilove

About Professor Fullilove's new book, Columbia professor Maura Spiegel says: "Always defying categories, psychiatrist and urban activist Mindy Fullilove takes us on a geographical and historical journey to Main Streets around the world. . . . This is as much a guide for the perplexed (or depressed) as it is an astonishing study of the built environment and its effects on our health, communities, politics—and our future." After an 11-year study of Main Streets in 178 cities and 14 countries, Fullilove discovered the power of city centers to “help us name and solve our problems.” In an era of compounding crises including racial injustice, climate change, and COVID-19, the ability to rely on the power of community is more important than ever. However, Fullilove describes how a pattern of disinvestment in inner-city neighborhoods has left Main Streets across the U.S. in disrepair, weakening our cities and leaving us vulnerable to catastrophe.

In the face of urban renewal programs built in response to a supposed lack of “personal responsibility,” Fullilove offers “a different story, that of a series of forced displacements that had devastating effects on inner-city communities. Through that lens, we can appreciate the strength of segregated communities that managed to temper the ravages of racism through the Jim Crow era, and build political power and many kinds of wealth. . . . Only a very well-integrated, powerful community—one with deep spiritual principles—could have accomplished such a feat.” This is the power she hopes we will find again.

Throughout Main Street, readers glimpse strong, vibrant communities who have conquered a variety of disasters, from the near loss of a beloved local business to the devastation of a hurricane. Using case studies to illustrate her findings, Fullilove turns our eyes to the cracks in city centers, the parts of the city that tend to be avoided or ignored. Providing a framework for those who wish to see their communities revitalized, Fullilove’s Main Street encourages us all to look both inward and outward to find the assets that already exist to create meaningful change.

From her research, Fullilove has published numerous articles, book chapters, and monographs.  She has also written The House of Joshua: Meditations on Family and Place, Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It, and Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America’s Sorted-Out Cities. A third edition of Homeboy Came to Orange: A Story of People's Power, which she helped her father, Ernest Thompson, write, was released in May 2018 by New Village Press.  She is co-author, with Hannah L. F. Cooper, of From Enforcers to Guardians: A public health primer on ending police violence, issued by Johns Hopkins University Press in January 2020.

Moderator Andy Merrifield is a writer, urbanist and independent scholar with a PhD from the University of Oxford. He is author of a dozen books, including works on urbanism and social theory such as MetromarxismThe New Urban Question and Magical Marxism, intellectual biographies of Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord and John Berger, a popular travelogue, The Wisdom of Donkeys, a manifesto for liberated living, The Amateur, and What We Talk About When We Talk About Cities (and Love), inspired by the writings of Raymond Carver, about falling in and out of love with cities. His journalism has appeared in the Guardian (UK), The Times (UK), The Nation, Harper’s Magazine, Jacobin, Dissent, and Harvard Design Magazine. His latest book, Marx, Dead and Alive, was published in November with Monthly Review Press.

Joining in the discussion about community is Peter Walsh, who graduated from Marist College with a BA degree in History. He attended the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies as an abroad student and after his service with the United States Army, received a diploma in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College in Dublin. For over thirty-five years, Walsh owned Coogan’s Restaurant in Washington Heights with David Hunt and Tess McDade. In 2018 when The New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer wrote about Coogan’s impending closure, the neighbors of Washington Heights, Harlem and Inwood united to open it again. This year, Coogan’s closed, but with the help of Facebook, United Way of New York City and donations, it continues to be a resource helping small business and non-profit organizations through the Coogan’s Community Fund.

Narrative Medicine Rounds are monthly rounds on the first Wednesday of the month hosted by the Division of Narrative Medicine in the Department of Medical Humanities and Ethics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. A recording of our Virtual Narrative Medicine rounds will be made available following the live session on the Narrative Medicine YouTube channel. You can also listen to a podcast of past Rounds on iTunes or watch recent ones on YouTube.