Every city has its share of affluent and impoverished neighbourhoods, and New Orleans is no different. While these contrasts are mostly evident across the economic and social spectrum, in the summer of 2005, it also spelt the difference between life and death. I'm embarrased to admit that my interest in Hurricane Katrina lasted only as long as the news cycles of the day permitted, but on this visit to New Orleans, I realised for the first time what a devastating impact it had on the community.
The mansions that line St Charles Avenue in the Garden District was home to wealthy American families who intentionally built their homes far away from the crowded Creole neighbourhoods in the French Quarter during the 19th century. These beautifully preserved houses continue to fetch handsome prices on the market today, and remain relatively flood-free as they are situated on higher ground.
Just a few miles down the road from the Garden District however, is the Lower Ninth Ward where the ravages of Hurricane Katrina are still very evident. It was only in the last 3 years that the process of rebuilding has begun, and while some streets are benefitting from the largesse of Habitat for Humanity or the Musicians' Village Project, there are still many houses that stand dilapidated and bear the marks of search dates and body counts. In this area, the wall of water rose to 20 feet when the levee walls broke, and many who died were trapped in the attics of their homes.
These new houses in the Lower Ninth Ward were built by the Make It Right Foundation, founded by Brad Pitt. He was filming "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in New Orleans when the storm hit and decided to do something to help the community when he realized that ugly politics and bad government was getting in the way of reconstruction. These new houses are being rebuilt the new way, with solar power and earth-friendly materials. Way to go, Brad Pitt!