The Problem With Brad Pitt’s New Orleans Rescue Effort

90 homes and $45 million dollars later, the Make It Right Foundation is struggling to sell their vision of the Lower Ninth Ward.

From an urban planning perspective, post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is experiencing the same problem as many depopulating cities in America—albeit at a rapidly accelerated pace. The immediate evacuation of huge swathes of the city has led to a long, slow fight about how and where to repopulate, akin to the dilemma faced by cities like Detroit. In each case, efforts by outsiders to finance unwieldy developments have resulted in problems for city governments and on-the-ground advocates.

A piece in the New Republic, ("If You Rebuild It, They Might Not Come") explores the legacy of Brad Pitt’s celebrity charity vehicle, the Make It Right Foundation, which has built 90 homes at an average cost of $400,000 a piece in the "largely barren moonscape" of the Ninth Ward. The problem is that not enough people have wanted to move back. Lydia Depillis reports:

The neighborhood doesn’t have enough residents to attract many stores and services, and prospective buyers end up elsewhere because the neighborhood doesn’t have enough stores and services. So about 90 households, primarily elderly people like Guy, 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.

As a result, the city is obligated to spend millions providing services to neighborhoods of roughly 2,000, when other neighborhoods that have repopulated naturally are desperately in need. One solution could have been mixed-used or multifamily dwellings, a proposal that was rejected by the community. Another alternative would have been to pour the money into communities that are rebounding on their own—or those that are above the waterline, at least.

There’s a reason, though, why such cold, hard logic hasn’t yet prevailed in this most hard hit of New Orleans neighborhoods: It’s all too easy to be won over by the spirit of the Lower Ninth, the passion of the people who did return. It may not be the most efficient use of public resources, and no amount of trying may bring in the kind of retail amenities that make places comfortable to live. … For those who were going to move back no matter what the city told them, perhaps they at least deserve enough basic public services to hang on.

It’s a tough situation to parse: Make It Right can’t be faulted for wanting to help, the Ninth Ward residents can’t be faulted for wanting to return to their homes, yet the project is draining the city’s coffers to the detriment of other neighborhoods. The Make It Right homes themselves seem destined to languish. Eventually, the development will likely become the sort of architectural anomaly that architecture students tour, cameras in hand—a perfect capsule of late '00s architectural culture that valued big gestures over common sense.

Read the full story here.

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