As I strolled along Tennessee Street in New Orleans at dusk earlier this month, I saw neighbors chatting on shady porches and a few friends drinking at a picnic table under a house set high on stilts.
Five years ago, after Hurricane Katrina struck, a wall of water burst through the Industrial Canal levee just west of Tennessee Street in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, and blasted 4,000 homes into kindling. A barge tumbled through the breach and lay at a crazy tilt just yards away from where I walked.
Now, almost 50 colorful houses with bat-wing roofs and louver-trellised porches have been built or are in construction. They are the most cheering emblem of a city where hundreds of thousands have returned yet full recovery and drivers of future growth remain elusive.
Tennessee Street’s rebirth was made possible by Make It Right, the charity that actor Brad Pitt, appalled by how little had happened two years after the Lower Ninth’s inundation, founded in 2007. It has raised $31 million so far — including $5 million of Pitt’s own money — to build 150 houses in the Lower Ninth, which became the symbolic epicenter of the human failure that made Hurricane Katrina so senselessly devastating.
I met Steven Bingler on Tennessee Street the next morning. One of 21 architects brought in by Make It Right, he pointed to a boxy, one-story house with a cockeyed hip roof that he had designed.
Traditional in Spirit
In spirit, it’s a traditional New Orleans house, long and narrow, though the roof tips to orient solar panels to the best sun angle. Bingler supplied a deep front porch because people in this neighborhood need to talk to neighbors and wave at passersby. Indeed several people tracking the passing scene from their porches that morning looked a lot more comfortable than we were in the searing heat.