Photo Essay: Brad Pitt’s New Orleans Revival

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This August marks five years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. The damage that the storm and its attendant flooding wrought on the city — both physically and psychologically — is slowly being repaired. The Louisiana Superdome, the focus of international horror during the aftermath of the storm, became once again a place of triumph this year, when the Saints won the Super Bowl for their hometown. And in the Lower 9th Ward, where over 4,000 homes were destroyed, new, inspired and sustainable homes are rising from the wreckage.

Brad Pitt founded the Make It Right foundation to help provide the Lower 9th with 150 affordable and storm-protected dwellings. So far, 50 homes are completed and another 25 are on the way, along with a handful of “micro-farms” and community centers. There’s a lot more to do to revive the community, but Pitt’s efforts have earned him nods from urban planners, as well as a grassroots campaign that encouraged him to make a mayoral bid. After the jump: a gallery of the Lower 9th Ward, five years later.

One of the Make It Right houses on Tennessee Street. These new homes dot the ward from North Derbigny to North Galvez Street.

Pitt’s goal is to make the Lower 9th the largest green neighborhood in the world. Each of the houses is LEED certified and outfitted with solar panels on the roof. Also, in deference to hurricane safety, each house has a hatch that opens up onto the roof.

The slanted roof is an innovation that will allow the homes to withstand winds up to 130 mph. Each of the houses also comes with a rainwater harvesting system that can collect 600 gallons of usable water.

Construction equipment and signs with the Make It Right logo are ubiquitous in empty lots around the ward. While we visited, a documentary crew was also taking a tour of the slowly repopulated streets.

Each of the 21 architects involved in the project — including Frank Gehry’s firm, Gehry Partners — was commissioned to design homes based on the traditional New Orleans shotgun houses. This is a single-family home, but larger duplexes are also in the works.

This playground was built in 2008 out of entirely donated materials. It includes a solar-powered, vandalism-proof computer.

Homeowners who are interested in buying one of the projects are expected to contribute as much as they can towards the new houses. The average cost of a single-family dwelling is $150,000, but the median contribution per family to date has been $75,000.

One of the dilapidated houses that has yet to be touched by the Pitt magic. Though construction is everywhere, lots overgrown with weeds that retain little more than concrete porch steps are reminders of why the redevelopment is necessary.

One of the landscape innovations Make It Right uses is rainwater gardens, small depressions in the lot that encourage rainwater to seep into the ground rather than run into the sewer system.

This bit of the playground, decorated by some of the children of the Lower 9th Ward, expresses the sentiments of many of the residents. Pitt’s intervention has been controversial in that it concentrates on quality and sustainability rather than quantity, thus replacing the much-needed housing stock in the area at a turtle’s pace. Still, it’s far better than the rot and abandonment of houses in many areas of town. As one New Orleanian told us, “It’s great that Brad Pitt’s doing this, but it’s not great that it’s Brad Pitt who had to.”