Went to New Orleans this weekend and toured the 9th Ward neighborhood where Brad Pitt's houses are being built. That's the informal title of the Make It Right organization using sustainable building methods in an attempt to rebuild that area.
From what I understand, they held a contest to develop affordable, sustainable housing. Those entries make up the varied designs and latest concepts for sustainability in post-Katrina New Orleans's 9th Ward.
There is much kvetching about whether Brad Pitt's project is a success or hype. To date 68 houses have been built and occupied in 5 years, but it is an interesting neighborhood to tour for the architecture. While my old college roommate was giving me the 10 cent tour, multiple humongous tour buses cruised up and down the streets.
Most of the houses have solar panels, flat roofs and resemble mobile homes on pilings. What makes them interesting are the details, like balconies, wire grids and palettes used for design elements.
The way MakeItRight works, it was told to me, is that the homes are valued at about $150k. The eligible homeowners are given aid for half and interest free loans for the other half. There are some conditions on occupancy terms, etc, so the folks don't just resell them and collect a profit.
The character of the "neighborhood" consists of 8' tall grass lots interspersed with these high-tech houses. Some houses are situated by themselves, and others are clustered. It gives a very forlorn feeling to the neighborhood.
The Make it Right project has its detractors. They say that it is unsustainable as a community because each home is its own island. If the levees break again, people can gather on their flat roofs and wait for the helicopters. They don't need each other. If you look closely at the pix, you'll note the homes use what appears to be old materials palettes and wire grids as design features. These have the added benefit of acting as ladders to the roof should the worst happen.
I think this neighborhood doesn't work because of the layout. Also, there are no stores to support it and no park for the kids to play. All the elements that create a sense of community are absent. Then add to the fact that it is on the other side of the Industrial canal, which separates it from New Orleans proper. Being so far from central New Orleans makes getting to stores, paying utilities and finding or commuting to work difficult.
Possibly, public transportation and distance may not be a problem. Most of the homes had late model cars parked in the driveways. It gives the impression that this project is not serving the low-income community after all.
Perhaps this project is too expensive for the poor who were displaced by the floods. I remember the 9th Ward. A friend of mine in grad school grew up there and I went to his family's home one time to celebrate his father's birthday. It was a simple, working class neighborhood of old wooden shotgun homes. From what my friend told me, many who lived there at the time of Katrina did not have proper title to their property because they never changed the deeds when their parents or grandparents died. When the time came to rebuild, they could not prove ownership and did not qualify for the aid.
IMHO, the concept of rebuilding sustainably was fantastic, but the location was wrong.