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Opinion

March 25, 2014

In New Orleans, Katrina victims live out Hollywood eco agenda

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CHICKASHA —

Pitt enlisted a who's who of world architecture to design the houses. One, a pinkish-lavender duplex with a roof deck shaded by twin canopies of solar panels, is by legendary architect Frank Gehry. The house, finished in 2012, is, according to Make It Right, "one of only 22 Gehry residences in the United States and the only Gehry home in Louisiana." Nearby homes are the work of Shigeru Ban, David Adjaye, the German design studio Graft and other architectural luminaries.

The homes are what is known as LEED Platinum, meaning they meet the highest standards of "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" as determined by the U.S. Green Homebuilding Council. "We don't just want to make homes 'less bad' for the environment," Pitt said in an admiring profile in Oprah Winfrey's O Magazine. "We want them instead to have an environmental benefit."

In the Lower Ninth neighborhood, a display constructed over the concrete stoops of two long-gone houses explains some of the homes' features. They have metal roofs that absorb less heat than other styles. They have acres of solar panels. Concrete columns with recycled content. Decking with non-toxic coatings. Rainwater collectors. Eco-friendly fiberboard. Sustainable wood cabinets. Carpet made from recycled materials. And much more.

The problem is, the daringly designed, environmentally sophisticated houses don't seem to appeal to the people they were intended to help. Last year, the New Republic published a critique saying "Brad Pitt's beautiful houses are a drag on New Orleans." Writer Lydia DePillis -- she's the one who called the buildings "pastel-colored UFOs" -- reported that the redevelopment has failed to attract former Lower Ninth residents back to the area, which has in turn failed to attract businesses. Nearby commercial boulevards are "largely barren" and the neighborhood's few residents "are living in futuristic homes that most Americans would covet, and yet there's not a supermarket -- or even a fast food restaurant -- for miles."

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