And the beat goes on

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Brad Pitt toured the construction site of a house in New Orleans that is based on the winning design in a competition he launched to help the area recover from Hurricane Katrina. Wearing khaki pants, T-shirt and hard hat, the 43-year-old actor walked through the house, pointing out its many “green” features, including blue walls treated with a nontoxic repellent for mold and termites.

Only months ago and despite Pitt’s celebrity, the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans was a community deeply cynical of promises made but rarely kept. After all, it had survived for years amid abandoned properties, failing public schools and escalating crime fueled by the illegal drug trade.

Despite rampant skepticism, Pitt, bolstered by a nonprofit real estate investment group specializing in sustainable development, got nine civic groups with strong ties to the Lower 9th Ward to sign on to the project. They joined 13 architecture firms from around the globe that soon lent their efforts for free.

Pitt has, again, expanded his commitment to the area by announcing plans for a new community of homes in the area hardest-hit by the worst natural disaster in American history. He is partnering with real estate mogul Steve Bing in creating the 150 affordable and sustainable homes, which are the first effort of Pitt’s “Make It Right” project.

Pitt announced his plan at the third annual gathering of Clinton Global Initiative, where he challenged attendees to join him and Bing in rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward. Pitt pledged to match $5 million in contributions to the project. Bing has pledged to match $5 million in contributions as well, for a total of $10 million in matching funds.

The spirit of the community’s culture is central to Make It Right.

“The heart and soul of New Orleans, specifically the people of the Lower 9th Ward, are paramount to this project,” said Pitt. “The words of one elderly man who is determined to return to New Orleans led to the name of our organization: he asked us, directly simply and profoundly, to help make it right. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re going to help to make it right with 150 sustainable, affordable houses –houses that stand out for their design both aesthetically and structurally, so that these people can live in beautiful safe structures that respect their spirit and provide a good quality of life.

Pitt became a part-time resident of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. After seeing the devastation first hand and meeting with the hardest-hit residents, he began the Make It Right project to catalyze the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward.

The community Pitt announced will address the dire need for single-family housing in the Lower Ninth Ward and further spark rebuilding efforts in one of the richest cultural communities in America, an area that saw houses not just flooded by water, but swept off their foundations.

Pitt and Bing said Make It Right is committed to:

-Building 150 houses in the Lower Ninth Ward
-Ensuring a green, affordable, sustainable, and replicable community to serve as a model for further rebuilding
-Including the Lower Ninth Ward community as an integral part of the process
-Forming a core team of local, national and international architects
-Utilizing sustainable construction practices; William McDonough+Partners, an internationally recognized practitioner of “cradle-to-cradle” design, will lead this effort. As opposed to cradle-to-grave products, dumped in landfills at the end of their ‘life,’ cradle-to- cradle materials are perpetually circulated in closed loops.
-A finance plan that ensures that residents who wish to return to the Lower Ninth Ward can do so without further financial hardship

Core Make It Right team members also include Graft, an innovative architecture firm that Pitt has collaborated with on projects around the world; Cherokee Gives Back Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Cherokee, a firm that specializes in remediation and sustainable redevelopment of environmentally impaired properties; and Trevor Neilson and Nina Killeen, advisors to the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Make It Right’s mission is built upon catalyzing redevelopment of the Lower Ninth Ward by building a neighborhood of safe and healthy homes that incorporates modern, high-quality design and construction while preserving the spirit of the community’s culture.

Last year, Pitt worked with Global Green in developing sustainable green multifamily housing in the Lower Ninth Ward. (See Multihousing Professional’s September October 2006 cover story.) The actor and architecture enthusiast launched a design competition in April 2006 with nonprofit Global Green USA. Underwritten with $100,000 of his own money, the contest sought plans for sustainable, low-income housing for the Lower Ninth. Pitt announced the winning design last September–on the first anniversary of Katrina–and paid a visit there a few weeks ago to check on the building progress.

He and Jolie also hosted an intimate Hamptons soiree in August that drew about 70 bigwigs to raise money for both campaigns.

In addition to replacing housing destroyed by Katrina, the sustainable design incorporated into the homes will help ease the financial burden of high energy costs and reduce their environmental impact.

The effort, which began with an architectural competition, sought to bring opportunity out of the devastation of Katrina by creating something better than was there before. Make It Right is taking this project a step further by committing to a community of safe, sustainable homes that incorporate the spirit and culture of the Lower Ninth Ward and encourage it to flourish.