Tennessee and Derbigny Streets
December 26th, 2007
Lower 9th Ward
New Orleans, La.
Dear Family and Friends,
Until recently, the daylit view off the Clairborne bridge was an unlikely inspirer. Looking towards the intersection of Tennessee and Derbigny, the residential lots blended together. Grazing grass replaced front yards.
What once was a lively part of the Lower 9th Ward had become an American eyesore that millions flocked to see. Devastation tours became big business.
Now, however, an artistic expression, a battle cry for sustainability, and a stab at correction is covering the most devastated area in New Orleans. The experiment is Brad Pitt's Pink Project. The Make It Right foundation hopes to build 150 homes here.
Over 400 scaffolded triangles and squares wrapped in pink are scattered across 15 square blocks symbolizing the homes lost in the Storm. It's an art installation on a massive scale, and I'm beginning to think the symbolic merit of the process will ultimately be its most important component.
The 150 homes rebuilt are a drop in the bucket in a neighborhood where over 5,000 homes were destroyed. This is not a save the City project by numbers. It's far more important from a spirit and upside outlook. The sounds of diesel engines and heavy machinery--not silence--give way to the crickets at dusk. When people drive through "ground zero" they don't think, "What's going to happen here?"
Too many Americans have left this neighborhood feeling angst, hopelessness, pity and shame.
The art component of the project is genius, really. We're a culture of extremes. If it isn't the fastest, the slowest, the youngest, the oldest, the biggest, smallest, the worst or the best it ain't a headline. For two years and four months, despite the truth that 80 percent of the City sustained considerable damage, these 15 blocks were the center of attention.
The Lower 9th Ward was Brad Pitt. We were the paparazzi.
Pitt called the project a small act of civil disobedience, citing pink as the color that screamed the loudest. The bright pink thingees have achieved what no guide or resident has been able to do--inspire.
Each time $150,000 dollars is raised by the Make it Right Foundation, the fragmented pieces of pink scaffolding will be joined to form a house in wrapping paper. Currently, enough has been raised for 52 of the 150 homes. At night the installation exhibits similarities of several pink jack-o-lanterns on a really big porch.
Pitt had 13 architecture firms submit designs for the homes, with sustainability a key concept.
“If you have this blank slate and this great technology out there, what better test than low-income housing?” Pitt told the New York Times. “It’s got to work at all levels to really be viable.”
"You can adopt a tankless water heater or a solar panel or a tree or a low-flush toilet,” Pitt told the New York Times.
And for those who've wondered whether Pitt is figurehead or real contributor--friends close to the project say it's the latter.
Donations can be made through the Make it Right foundation's web site: www.makeitrightnola.org.
Photo Credit: Lee Celano, Reuters.