A Decade of Rebuilding the Lower 9th Ward
When contemplating our honeymoon destination, I already decided in my mind before the suggestion rolled off of my lips: New Orleans. Originally, I thought about trying to make a Paris trip happen but with only a week to spare, the French Quarter seemed like the next best alternative. The week was absolutely perfect and I could rant and rave for days about the history and culture of New Orleans and why I feel it is the beating heart of our country, still pumping tradition, cultural origins and rejuvenated oxygen back into the air we breathe.
In true tourist fashion, a middle-aged salesman standing behind a 3-fold poster board caught our attention and persuaded us to take a city bus tour on our final day in town. At first, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but kept an open mind and thought the tour may allow me to see places I would not have visited on my own. It was this tour and the surrounding areas of rebuilding that left me loving the kindred spirit or New Orleans, even more than I already did.
On August 29, 2005 Category 5 Hurricane Katrina obliterated New Orleans with 30 foot wave surges, wind speeds of up to 140 miles per hour and a radius of over 190 miles, leaving Katrina with the title of one of the deadliest, costliest natural disasters in United States history. After Katrina, New Orleans saw 1,833 deaths, $108 billion in total property damage and over 1 million residents permanently displaced elsewhere in the country. We all remember the FEMA controversy and the ever-so subtle Kanye West stated on live television that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” but being driven down to the lower 9th ward where the biggest levee breach occurred and took out a whole city left me feeling inspired and motivated to spread the word about the resilience and courage of the residents of New Orleans.
Brad Pitt and Harry Connick Jr. became local heroes when they both took special interest in the aftermath of Katrina and made a commitment to rebuild the beautiful city previously submerged under 20 feet of water. Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis partnered with Habitat for Humanity to create Musician’s Village; a neighborhood dedicated to preserving the musical heritage and spirit of New Orleans. The project successfully created 72 family homes, 5 senior duplexes, a safe community park for children and The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
Pitt founded the Make It Right Project, and vowed to rebuild 150 affordable and sustainable homes in the lower 9th ward, the area most devastated by the levee breaches. I had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand the 100 vibrant houses built to date, all complete with solar panels, pervious concrete construction and passive heating and cooling systems. As stated on the website, Make It Right strives to continue building “innovative and affordable homes of high quality that are available for everyone.” Each home averages $150,000 and 1,400 square feet. Homeowners choose from 21 innovative designs, and custom pick their choice of paint, flooring, and interior options such as cabinetry and countertops. No two houses are the same, giving the neighborhood a vibrant flare suitable for its city’s spirit.
Being on an air conditioned tour bus, driving through the neighborhood made me feel somewhat uneasy. I instantly wanted to be out in the yard of the houses in the neighborhood still marked with the 2005 search and rescue tags of how many bodies were found in the home. Something about being on the tour bus made me feel like I was on the wrong side of the glass. At least remembering this historic event and memorializing its devastation and beauty in humanity help me honor those 1,833 lives lost. Nearly a decade has passed and Make It Right is nearing 2/3 completion with their commitment to the lower 9th ward, yet there are still many homes and families needing help. Ten years may seem like an eternity to us, but to those who lost everything in the storm I’m sure it seems like just yesterday. It’s never too late to help those in need. To support the New Orleans rebuilding efforts, donate to a charity of your choice here.