The Lower 9th Ward was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Pictures of the area more than two years after the storm revealed a wasteland of moldy, rotted homes, if, in fact, any remained standing. Efforts to rebuild the rest of the city were ongoing and even completed, while those residents that returned to the Lower 9th lingered in formaldehyde-contaminated FEMA trailers. That is, until actor Brad Pitt and the Make It Right Foundation came along and reignited the spark of community and self-reliance, with a green twist.
Adding to its rich history and local fame, the Lower 9th Ward has been referred to by the U.S. Green Building Council as “the greenest community in the nation” and possibly the ward. Every home built by the Make It Right Foundation is a net-zero green home that also includes important safety features in the event that Katrina’s horror is ever repeated…think stilts and rooftop access. “Net-zero homes” means that the houses create as much energy as they consume, and some even create extra energy that results in tax credits from the energy company. Powered via solar panels, these homes are endowed with additional green features like energy-efficient windows, zero-VOC paints, and low-flow faucets, just to name a few. When questioned by the Picayune Times regarding his motivation in spearheading the project, Pitt stated, “… We were telling people to come home, and yet when they got back to New Orleans they were treated in a substandard way. I just thought it was atrocious.”
Restoring a community requires more than just rebuilding homes. Make It Right – along with other Lower 9th Ward initiatives – has established a new playground and rebuilt streets and a community garden. New Orleans is a truly unique city; no other American city can boast the rich tradition, culture, and architectural beauty housed within it. Now, a neighborhood that has a rich civil rights and cultural legacy, that suffered from economic challenges and crime before Katrina, that was ignored like a dirty family secret after Katrina, has come to life with renewed vigor and finally a sense of hope that all that went wrong in New Orleans after Katrina will be set right.