I visited Lousiana recently to do some reporting on Sen. Mary Landrieu's bid to win a fourth term in a tough political year. But before heading to the key parishes that will determine Landrieu's fate this November, I stopped by New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward to see how rebuilding efforts are faring nearly nine years after Hurricane Katrina.
I visited one particular spot -- the area where in August 2005 a flood wall holding the waters of the Industrial Canal broke, setting off a calamity that continues to this day. The destruction was total; the rebuilding is at best partial.
The first thing one notices today is that solar energy panels seem to outnumber people in this particular stretch of the Lower Ninth. The panels are perched in creative ways atop brand new, brightly colored, architecturally striking, ultra-modern houses. The scene looks completely out of place in New Orleans, although it might fit nicely on the California coast. One critic said the landscape resembles "a field of pastel-colored UFOs."
The houses are the work of an organization called the Make It Right Foundation, created in 2007 by the actor Brad Pitt. The group has pledged to build 150 new homes in the area, and so far it has finished about 100. And the first thing to say about the project is: Good for them. Much praise should go to people who help others rebuild homes and lives after such a terrible disaster. Here's hoping they will continue.
At the same time, what becomes clear after looking at the houses along the Industrial Canal is that they are the product of the same spirit of moral uplift and edification that in an earlier era led missionaries to house and feed the unfortunate while requiring they listen to a sermon or a series of Bible verses. The only difference is that now the sermon is about the environment.