Hurricane Katrina is out of most Americans’ minds now, what with almost six years having passed since it roared ashore on August 29th, 2005. But, as I saw again this week, Katrina remains more than a memory; she is a stark reality in the form of still-destroyed homes, devastated neighborhoods, displaced people, and aching economies.
While the famous French Quarter, the highest land in town, was largely spared, that can’t be said of an area known as the Lower 9th Ward. Southeast of New Orleans and on the fringe of the Industrial Canal, this part of New Orleans suffered beyond belief when floodwaters surged over the levees and ruined miles of neighborhoods that were barely hanging on before the storm. Over 4,000 homes were destroyed.
Because my wife Bibi and I go to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest every year, and often visit at other times, we get to see what progress has been made since Katrina. The drive in from the east on I-10 disclosed some steady improvement the past three years, but vacant communities of single-family and multi-family homes still sit as silent testimony to the ravaging storm.
Down in the Lower 9th Ward, however, there’s an interesting project underway that has an intriguing force behind it. It’s not the federal, state, or even local government. It’s a “private” citizen who decided to make a difference. I capped the “private” because the citizen is actually a very public figure — movie actor Brad Pitt.
Pitt, wife Angelina Jolie, and their six children have a home in the French Quarter and they are active residents of the city. In 2006, Pitt decided to bring his considerable wealth and talent together to make a difference by creating a non-profit organization called “Make It Right.” He harnessed diverse partners to brainstorm how to build 150 affordable, safe, and environmentally green homes so the area would be rebuilt quickly.
As of now, 14 families live in Make It Right Homes and 19 are under construction. (Track the project’s progress home by home here.)
I cannot begin to describe the incredible homes we saw as we visited Tennessee Street, which runs parallel to the Industrial Canal, and nearby streets. Check them out for yourself.
I encourage everyone to take a stand and get involved in some way to help nature. I am happy to share with you what Pitt is doing as one more witness to the goodness in people. I’m sure those residents of the Lower 9th Ward we saw planting flowers, raking empty lots, bagging trash, all with smiles on their faces, appreciate the opportunity to be a community again. Sometimes nature can be tough, but spirit and soul always shine through. No doubt, on Tennessee Street and others nearby, there are some people very much ready to revel in that famous N’Awlins mantra: Laissez les bons temps rouler!