Remembering the west end : social science, mental health and the American urban environment, 1939-1968

Smith, Matthew and Ramsden, Edmund (2017) Remembering the west end : social science, mental health and the American urban environment, 1939-1968. Urban History. ISSN 1469-8706

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    Abstract

    In 1958, the Boston Redevelopment Authority began its demolition of a 48-acre portion of Boston’s West End, displacing 2,700 lower-working class families. For Erich Lindemann, chief of psychiatry at the nearby Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), this urban renewal programme offered a unique opportunity. By studying the effect of acute stress and loss on the population, they could contribute to the emerging field of social psychiatry which sought to prevent mental illness through identifying and a meliorating the effects of destructive factors in the social and physical environment. The results of Lindemann’s project, ‘Relocation and Mental Health: Adaptation Under Stress’, would not only contribute to an emerging community mental health programme, but would also become critical to debates surrounding urban renewal and the relationship between the built environment and mental health more generally. Such was the case in Boston, where ‘Remember the West End!’ became a rallying call for those who lamented the destruction of a once vibrant neighbourhood, and throughout the US, where urban renewal was increasingly seen to inflict unreasonable upheaval upon socially and economically disadvantaged populations for questionable purposes.