New Orleans, LA

Aided by Star Power, the Lower Ninth Rebounds From Katrina

Two of the Make It Right homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward

Two of the Make It Right Foundation homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward: affordable, energy-efficient and stormproof. Their innovative, angular, candy-coloured designs have not impressed all critics, but homeowners love them.
JOANNE SASVARI/Meridian Writers’ Group

THE LOWER Ninth Ward is a long way from touristy Bourbon Street. Not, perhaps, in terms of distance—it’s only a 15-minute drive—but by almost every other measurement.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, the levee that protects the Lower Ninth Ward from the Mississippi River broke, unleashing a giant surge of water. Thousands of homes were swept away, along with the culture and history of what had been one of New Orleans’ oldest African-American neighbourhoods. Even now, the devastation Katrina brought remains obvious.

But when tour buses pull up in one particular corner of the Lower Ninth Ward, just above Claiborne Avenue along the Industrial Canal, what visitors see is much more positive: a living work of art in progress, a moving reminder of the best we can be amid the worst that can happen. Here, the Make It Right Foundation is building homes and trying to resurrect a community.

The foundation was started in 2007 by the actor Brad Pitt, who owns a home in the French Quarter. He is famously passionate about modern architecture and, in the wake of Katrina, saw an opportunity not only to indulge that passion, but to do some good with it. And so he decided to build 150 avant-garde homes in the neighbourhood, and to hire 20 of the world’s greatest architects, including Canada’s Frank Gehry, to design them.

The houses had to do more than just look good. They had to be affordable, functional, qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certification and able to withstand the worst any future storm could throw at them.

So far, the team has built more than 90 houses and moved over 300 people back home. True, it’s just a tiny portion of the once heavily populated area: in the entire Lower Ninth Ward only about 3,000 of the original 10,000 residents have returned.

The project has earned its share of kudos—and complaints. For one thing, critics point out that the part of the Lower Ninth chosen by the foundation has little of the infrastructure—such as schools, shops and restaurants—that would make it appealing to would-be residents.

This will change, says Craig Turner, Make It Right’s construction director. “There’s a lot of plans for commercial development. There’s a lot of work to be done beyond the housing. We were meant to be a catalyst for redevelopment.”

Other criticism has been aimed at the designs themselves; it seems not everyone admires modern, angular and candy-coloured structures in a city known for lush, historic architecture. But ask the people living in these homes how they feel.

“Oh, I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it,” says Ann Parfaite, one of the first people to move into a Make It Right house after the storm “stole” hers. She and her neighbours don’t even mind tourists gawking at their homes. In fact, they want more people to see what’s evolving here.

“It’s a godsend for everybody,” she says.



For more information on the Make It Right Foundation visit www.makeitright.org.

Several tour companies including Gray Line, www.graylineneworleans.com, conduct tours of the Lower Ninth Ward.

For information on the city visit the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation’s website at www.neworleansonline.com.