I visited Louisiana recently to do some reporting on Sen. Mary Landrieu’s bid to win a fourth term in a tough political year.
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 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: Much praise should go to people who help others rebuild homes and lives after such a terrible disaster.
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.
In a defense of the project, New Orleans-based architectural writer Martin Pedersen argued that Make It Right has been “aspirational from the start. It was never about building the most houses, the most expediently; never about rebuilding an entire neighborhood. It was about building for returning residents 150 affordable LEED Platinum houses by some of the world’s best architects. It was also about creating a model for sustainable development.”
It’s not enough to house the homeless. The victims of Katrina – in this case, a very small number of them – must also be shown the benefits of photo-voltaic panels and special concrete and eco-decking. They may be trying to rebuild their lives, but they’re living in someone else’s agenda.
• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.