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Looks like a fun lawsuit to watch.

Brad Pitt’s sustainable architectural non-profit in the 9th Ward unfairly takes fire from the New Republic. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the beloved New Orleans’ neighborhood, Pitt, who dabbles in architectural design, decided to help build homes that could withstand hurricanes and floods in the future. He started a non-profit, Make It Right, hired some incredibly talented architects, urban planners, economists, and locals and went to work.

Make It Right built over 90 homes throughout the lower 9th (a small fraction of the tens of thousands that were damaged or destroyed).

The author unfairly compares Make It Right - essentially a charity - to for-profit real estate firms and declares it a failure. It is unclear how anyone - let alone some of the best architects and planners in the country - could have predicted the recovery of a city, especially after a major hurricane.

What’s even more unclear is how the author got away with making such a lazy comparison. The New Republic got duped, in my opinion.

Most of the homes Pitt built are fantastic dream homes comprised of minimalist design and sustainable materials. The problem - so says the author - is that poor people do not deserve such ‘luxurious’ amenities. Racism aside, the fact that many families have moved away from New Orleans, with little expectation that they’ll return anytime soon, the author insists on blaming a charity for attempting to provide sustainable housing.

It’s true the economy is in the tank. But it is simply not true that one non-profit should have followed a different path. The author writes:

But there’s a Catch-22: 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. 

It didn’t have to be this way, and it’s costing the city.

This is a flat out lie:yet there’s not a supermarket—or even a fast food restaurant—for miles.” Utterly false. See above google map screen cap I took this morning. The lower 9th has dozens of restaurants and at least 10(!) grocery stores, including one locally owned co-op that features fresh fruits and vegetables.

And that’s just in the Lower 9th neighborhood!

The author uses the yellow home at the top (with the long stair case) as a prop for the story. This home was built 9 feet off the ground. It has solar panels, modernist features, experimental materials, and a small footprint. It cost around $300k to build, yet the author will have you believe that this is far more than anyone in the neighborhood could typically afford. Also false. A quick search on real estate site Zillow shows homes, condos, and townhouses average $250k in the 9th Ward, some top out around $750,000. See map 2. Clearly the New Republic does not employ fact checkers.

Brad Pitt’s project is still the darling of the sustainable architecture and resiliency crowds (and to climate adaptation folks like me). The New Republic will have readers believe that Pitt and his teams should have known better. That his non-profit charity work should become more profitable. This is disingenuous at best, and out right deception at worst.

The New Republic is wrong for comparing a ‘non-profit charity' to traditional 'for-profit' real estate developers.

Founded in 2007, Make It Right’s mission is crystal clear: “To build safe, Cradle to Cradle inspired homes, buildings and communities for people in need.” Yet according this sloppy hit piece, it’s as if Pitt’s error was not fully adopting the commonly held philosophy by greedy developers: “build it and they will come.” 

In other words, Make It Right was, is, and will always be a non-profit community development organization, not a for-profit real-estate firm. It’s like blaming an apple for not being a tuna sandwich.

The hit piece is nothing more than journalistic bedazzling. The article has that well researched, boots-on-the-ground journalistic feel. There are nice pull quotes from interviews, and the writer uses urban planning vernacular quite well. But the author used more speculatory  “what if” scenarios than actual analysis, which makes the piece more in line with link-baity shlock.

For example, the writer faults Brad Pitt for not doing things that do not exist. ‘Pitt should have invested differently. Pitt could have built cheaper homes. Pitt could have rehabbed more blocks. Pitt should not include hurricanes in architectural designs.’ And, since Pitt didn’t do these things (which exist in the author’s head), the entire venture has failed. This despite the fact that Pitt’s foundation has the support from Louisiana’s politicians, some of the best urban planners, economists, and architects in North America, and the very people who live in the neighborhood.

Instead, we get paragraph after paragraph of utter speculation that serves nothing more than to stir up stern nods of disappointment:

Pitt’s foundation could have chosen to put its $45 million into a neighborhood where the compounding effects would’ve been remarkable, or at least one without the added risk and cost of building below sea level—like Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.’s Musicians Village on the other side of the Industrial Canal.

He could also have built several hundred perfectly serviceable, weatherproof, and efficient new homes, instead of the 90 he’s completed—like Barnes and Noble founder Leonard Riggio, who’ll build 200 new homes in a concentrated area in nearby Gentilly for about the same amount.

He could even have filled in more quickly recovering neighborhoods with higher-quality traditional designs, like New Urbanist patron saint Andres Duany. Instead, Pitt got an interesting architectural experiment, lots of gushy magazine coverage, and a place for Gloria Guy to remember what life was like before it all floated away. 

Use of “could haves” and “what ifs” in cultural criticism are red flags. These signal that the author has an agenda. Reader beware. These are known as straw man fallacies - create fake scenarios that no one can test - and then shoot them down, all the while not addressing the original issue.

As you can see, the intention of these “he could have” speculations serve nothing more than to solicit your disapproval. This is journalistic trickery. Perhaps the writer was under deadline and needed to fulfill their word-count requirement. But, in my opinion, any good writer will know that presenting a critical analysis of a possibly failed project (this project has indeed not failed) s/he better present their case steeped deep in a fat vat of facts, not on a buffet of empty calories.

So, word to the wise, if you’re going to write a hit piece, do your due diligence. Address a problem that actually exists and present and contrast it to similar scenarios, scenarios that serve to provide appropriate context and understanding. Avoid filling space with empty speculations and bring some solutions to the table.

If you can stomach reading a biased hit piece, go ahead and visit the New Republic - if not at least for the slideshow.

Correction: Here is the map:,pf_pt/19594_rid/days_sort/29.982502,-89.992468,29.946289,-90.038173_rect/14_zm/1_rs/

Finally, America cares about the infrastructure in NOLA.
Did the water come from the sky, or the rivers, or the ocean?
Mitt Romney in New Orleans discussing climate change and sea-level rise

Isaac update: not quite a hurricane yet. Expected to hit NOLA as a mild level-1 hurricane. Winds currently at 71 mph as of 7am.

Ellen and Brad Pitt walk around the 9th Ward, a neighborhood in New Orleans that was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Pitt’s non-profit “Make it Right" has helped build 75 sustainable homes that should be hurricane proof.

More here.

New Orleans’ population has declined 30% since hurricane Katrina. Homes left abandoned are being ‘taken back’ by nature. Snakes and pests are moving in closer to the city, too.

More at the NYTimes

Did Google Maps quietly rollout a major imaging update? This is Louisiana, the Mississippi River and the delta, New Orleans, and some of the Gulf of Mexico. Clearest image I’ve seen of the area thus far. 

When human populations can no longer live on their land, they move, migrating to better places. Sea level rise, higher temperatures, disruption of water cycles, and increasing severity of storms are climate change impacts that will force millions of people to move from their homes.

Most populations will migrate slowly, but in the case of catastrophic events coupled with the inability to adapt, mass migration will occur. Think, New Orleans vs Somalia, where New Orleans is arguably more able to adapt to catastophic weather events than Somalia, which is dealing with millions of people migrating north and west due to climate drought. This shows there are two general types of migration - very slow, and very fast. It’s not a smooth gradient pattern where people slowly and eventually move from place to place, like Americans or Europeans do. No, rather this slow/fast pace is lumpy and jagged, and occurs in unexpected spurts at the extremes.

But what of their destinations? Are countries prepared for these sporadic influxes? In other words, what about the countries that receive these migrants? Are they prepared? A new white paper, Climate Change and Migration Dynamics, funded by the European Union and published by Migration Policy, concludes that international cooperation is needed in order to respond to mass displacements that could occur from climate changes, even in the short-term.

The paper looks at it from the point of view of countries, not from the point of view of the people. From that point of view, the authors take a look at policies that would or would not allow mass migrations within the above context of extremes. The authors split countries policies into two general categories, an obstructive approach and a constructive approach.

Obstructive policies are just that - they purposefully obstruct massive amounts of people from immigrating into their political boundaries. The United States, though relatively generous, would be in this category.

Constructive countries help people maintain their livelihoods in the face of climate change. These countries accommodate climate migrants movements as necessary. New Zealand has a limited climate migration policy, allowing up to 12,000 people from the island nation of Tuvalu to migrate in case complete inundation of the islands by sea level rise. (Note: I didn’t find a country that has very accommodating migration policies, if you know of one, please contact me).

The paper is a short read - just about 10 pages. I recommend it to my adaptation readers as an excellent source of information for international issues of immigration and human responses to climate impacts.

Source: “Climate Change and Migration Dynamics" via Migration Policy

Interesting upside from the BP disaster, though from looking at the slide show, it’s not really a ‘treasure trove,’ just some junk pottery. I’m pretty grumpy, so maybe this has much more value than I can convey. Have a look and tell me what you think.

Cleanup after the BP oil spill has turned up dozens of sites where archaeologists are finding human and animal bones, pottery and primitive weapons left behind by prehistoric Indian settlements — a trove of new clues about the Gulf Coast’s mound dwellers more than 1,300 years ago. But they also fear the remains could be damaged by oil or lost to erosion before they can be fully studied.

Source: AP

This is in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Seven buckles cost LA tax-payers over $325,000. Look, state DOTs need to rethink their designs and incorporate higher heat and lower temperatures. Or, do like France and make road contractors responsible for any flaws or problems that occur to their product. This crappy work based on low state standards is too expensive, and could cost people their lives. We’ve become a nation of constant infrastructure repair, which drags down the economy like an anchor. Politicians need to get their shit together and get to work!

Jefferson Parish officials blamed seven road buckles on the heat. The phenomenon occurs when concrete panels expand in high temperatures and run out of space between them, rupturing upward and suddenly forming potentially dangerous and damaging ramps.

"It hasn’t been cooling down at night," to give the roads a break, said Randy Nicholson, Jefferson Parish streets director. "You walk out early in the morning, it’s like you’re walking into an oven."

When roads pop, Nicholson said parish crews remove the upended panels and temporarily fill the void with limestone gravel until a contractor can make the permanent fix.

Three of Jefferson Parish’s road eruptions took place along Severn Avenue in Metairie on Sunday, he said. With three lanes in each direction, Severn has more seams where concrete sheets can strain against each other, he said.

Nicholson said one of the larger upheavals on Severn might cost $30,000 to repair. Spots only involving two concrete panels cost about $10,000.

Kenner has reported responding to 23 road buckles since May 5 at a total cost to the city of $338,258.

Compare to Haiti, Pakistan, and, sadly, New Orleans, Louisiana.


Evacuation center. Japan.

(via futurejournalismproject)

Dear Governor Rick Scott:


This past January, the Federal Transit Administration signed an agreement with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority for $45 million in federal economic stimulus funds to build a new, 1.5-mile streetcar line. It would link Canal Street with the Union Passenger Terminal, a 1954 structure that’s now home to the Amtrak and Greyhound stations.

Skeptical New Orleanians wondered why. Of course, connecting to a regional transportation center was a sensible thing. But the line passed block after block of bleak, asphalt-savanna surface parking that flanks partially filled office towers. Why not route the new streetcar through communities that already had a denser residential population?

The answer came pretty quickly. Routing the streetcar through an underused part of the city, it turned out, was like adding water to sea monkeys. The blocks came to life almost immediately.

“Once upon a time, traffic engineers told us how we should design a street,” Nordahl told me. So streets ended up being what one writer has referred to as “traffic sewers”—concrete sluices designed strictly for cars. That attitude has changed. “Now there’s this movement all across the country where we’re redesigning streets—they’re narrower, and travel is slower, but they’re very inviting and comfortable for pedestrians,” he said.

Source: architectmagazine, 02.03.11.