All week, we've been looking at the shocking devastation that still remains in New Orleans, as citizens there mark one year since Hurricane Katrina struck. On Thursday, actor Brad Pitt announced a major step forward in his effort to bring back housing in one of the hardest-hit parts of the city. Not only did he vow that it will be built, ground-breaking is expected in a matter of months. I caught up with him in New Orleans on Thursday for an exclusive interview:
Brad Pitt: The first responsibility is to help those that are the most vulnerable. And we failed — and failed miserably. And to some extent we're still failing.
Brad Pitt, disappointed by the pace of recovery in New Orleans, is a movie star playing a new part in the future of this city.
Pitt: We're a country of great ingenuity. And the fact that we can't get in there and clean up this quagmire is ridiculous. And it's shameful.
Together with the environmental non-profit Global Green, Pitt sponsored a housing design competition, and Thursday he helped select the winner.
This winning blueprint is low-income housing planned for the neglected, still almost deserted, lower 9th ward.
Ann Curry: What do you love about this design?
Pitt: I love that it can be replicated, and not in a cookie-cutter style. At the same time, where it really wins is that, if done properly, we can completely get rid of the idea of an energy bill.
Curry: People listening now are thinking, Oh, come on.
Pitt: It's not that difficult.
Curry: Come on. How?
Pitt: You can cut your energy bill down 65 percent just by the way you position your house, the way you structure it for air flow and insulation and shielding from the sun, and again, the material that you use.
Curry: You're suggesting that people living in these homes will pay zero.
Pitt: That's right.
The winning architects — Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman of Workshop/APD in New York — created a versatile model of energy efficient design, using the sun's rays for power, rain for the water system and energy from the earth.
Curry: Do you know this is going to work?
Matthew Berman of Workshop/APD: We know this is going to work.
Curry: Why do you know it's going to work?
Berman: We know it's going to work because they are not new systems. The difference between what existed then and what exists now is the technology has improved.
Matt Petersen heads Global Green and is something of a guiding light for Pitt's ideas.
Petersen: We estimate that if 50,000 of the homes in New Orleans — of the 200,000 that are going to be rebuilt in Louisiana — if 50,000 of them used our energy goals for this project, on a very conservative level, people would save $38 million to $56 million dollars a year. Which, on average, is $1,200 per home, conservatively.
Curry: You mentioned Brad's help. How much do you need this kind of star power to get the message out?
Petersen: When somebody like Brad steps up to the plate, and he is passionate about not just architecture but how we build differently, how do we improve people's lives, how do we build green, that means there's a greater chance for success because he's deeply committed to this.
And, committed to planting the seeds of green living wherever possible.
Pitt: Well, this is where it gets really exciting. We're still the most powerful nation in the world. And beyond policing the world, we could also be inspiring the world. And we could be at the forefront of this kind of movement.
But here in New Orleans, he says, his work is about something more basic.
Pitt: This is tied into the bigger issue that we talked about of justice. And it bothers me to see these people left behind in a sense, they are really not getting a big hand up. These are the people that need the most help. So, we gotta start there.
Pitt: To actually be able to have some small hand in improving anyone's life, I mean, I'm a father now. And it — what that does to you is make you more aware of other children and the plight of other families. That makes me relate to others more. And I want the same for them. So, if we can play any hand in that, it just makes me feel pretty good.
Curry: I see a change in you.
Curry: Yeah. Big change. You seem to be open to more philanthropy. To do more.
Pitt: I'm still the same guy. I mean, there are a lot of great things in my life. And that comes from this family that we've created. And it's incredibly grounding and, I mean, walking in the door at the end of the day and seeing these faces light up, it's — I don't know anything more rewarding.
But as rewarding as his new family is to him, this movie star says it also gives him a greater sense of duty.
Pitt: I believe that there is a responsibility if we truly believe — and that's the question that this is putting to the test, especially here in New Orleans — do we really believe that someone else's life matters as much as our own? And the answer to me is obvious.
For more information, visit globalgreen.org.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints