But how has the economic decline and attempted urban renewal of industrial cities like Detroit affected the health of its residents? Jessica Nickrand investigates this question in her research, which she will present in the upcoming Doctoral Research Showcase.
In her dissertation, "Health in the Model City: Urban Renewal and the Social Costs of Deindustrialization in Detroit," Nickrand argues that there is a direct relationship between city inhabitants' health status and the economic capital of a city. While several historians have examined the many reasons behind Detroit's decline, they have not questioned “whether or not residents were receiving adequate healthcare, and its impact on the city's weakened economic state,” says Nickrand.
She primarily examines the development of a major hospital campus in Midtown Detroit.
Attempts at urban renewal "failed to truly invest in the residents" of Detroit, Nickrand says. Instead of ensuring that city residents had "adequate access to healthcare, safe housing and capable schools," city officials constructed medical campuses, bigger universities, and new sports stadiums. Poor residents were also displaced due to these construction projects.
Nickrand's research was driven by her strong interest in health issues. As the daughter of a nurse, Nickrand noticed early on that "if you were poor, your health care would likely suffer." She was concerned at an early age about how problems with insurance and health care delivery systems affected people's health care.
The experience of growing up in the Downriver community of the Detroit area also influenced Nickrand's research. "I noticed as a child that Detroit was different than other American cities I had visited. I have always been interested in why," she says.
In her past five years at the U, Nickrand has worked as both a teaching assistant and graduate instructor, through which she constructed her own course. Fellowships and travel grants were crucial in the completion of her dissertation research, she says.
During her undergraduate years at Michigan State University, Nickrand explored her interests in urban society, social welfare, and public health, and "nurtured her passion for research." After receiving her bachelor's in Social Relations and Policy, she decided to further explore her interests in graduate school through studying the History of Medicine, a field of study offered at the U that directly aligned with her goals.
"The University of Minnesota was attractive for its program that encouraged interdisciplinarity, allowing me to pursue my policy interests, and for its location in an urban center, which facilitated community involvement in the ways that are important to me," Nickrand says.
During her first year at the U, Nickrand was awarded a Diversity of Views and Experiences (DOVE) Fellowship and was a member of the Community of Scholars program, which aims to create a supportive environment for academically underrepresented graduate students.
"It is my hope that my work makes a historiographical contribution to historians of medicine and urban society, encouraging them to think more about the implications of poor health after World War II," Nickrand says.
Her work can also have a significant impact on contemporary urban health policy, she says. As planners and officials renew and rebuild the neighborhoods and downtown areas of Detroit and other manufacturing cities, Nickrand hopes to demonstrate the importance of providing sufficient health care to city residents through her research.
-- Lyra Fontaine