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Video: Pitt gives hope and homes to New Orleans

TODAY contributor
updated 8/23/2007 9:24:22 AM ET 2007-08-23T13:24:22

Brad Pitt doesn't pretend that the 18 apartments and five homes rising in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward are anything more than a start toward the massive job of rebuilding from the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. But the Hollywood star believes the project he's putting his time and celebrity behind is an important step toward shaping what the area could become.

“It doesn't feel like much of a victory when you look at the overall problem here,” he told TODAY’s Ann Curry during a tour of the construction site one week before the second anniversary of the killer storm. “Katrina was a manmade disaster. The misconception is that it was nature. But this is manmade — decades and decades of erroneous engineering moves and really, really bad, bad irresponsible moves that I believe government has a responsibility to make right.”

Pitt and his wife, Angelina Jolie, have adopted New Orleans. In January, they bought an early-19th-century mansion in the French Quarter. Not long afterward, Pitt teamed with Global Green USA to sponsor a competition to design environmentally friendly and energy-efficient housing for the Ninth Ward.

“I care very much for the area,” he said. “I met a 60-year-old man when I first arrived here to look into this. He said, ‘I did everything right. I got a job. I bought a home. I raised my kids in that home. They did the same. Now, one kid's in Atlanta, another one's in Houston. We're all split apart and we've been wiped out. What do I do?’

“He’s right,” Pitt said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Affordable and functional Video: Pitt’s plan for a ‘green’ New Orleans
His solution was the competition to build housing that is not only affordable, but also works. Global Green is the contractor of the units, and will give former residents of the Ninth Ward first shot at buying them.

The winning design, which he announced earlier this year on TODAY, was submitted by architects Matthew Berman and Andrew Kotchen of Workshop APD in New York. Combining energy-efficient appliances and plumbing with a design that makes the most of natural light and ventilation, the units could save their new owners as much as 75 percent on their energy bills and 50 percent on water bills.

Wearing a snap-brim tweed hat, T-shirt and khaki work pants and sporting a week’s worth of gray-flecked stubble, Pitt looked like anything but a celebrity. “He doesn’t seek out the publicity,” TODAY co-host Matt Lauer observed.

“He’s a humble man, and, it’s clear to me, very passionate about this,” Curry added.

Pitt pointed at one of the FEMA trailers that have provided temporary housing for people who lost their homes and all their possessions to Katrina. “It’s ripe with formaldehyde,” he said. “That trailer that people are having to stay in is poisoning them even as we speak.”

The homes he and Global Green are building are made with studwork and sheathing that are impregnated with an environmentally friendly blue compound that makes them resistant to termites and mold. Insulation is soy-based. It incorporates solar panels and a roof design that feeds rainwater to a cistern to reduce reliance on municipal water.

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'Justice issue'
The people who were hardest hit by Katrina were people who had the least.

“It's a justice issue,” Pitt told Curry. “What we saw with Katrina is that there is a portion of our society that's being overlooked. And so, in the aftermath, we're not going to be able to bring back the friends and family that are lost.

“We're not going to be able to bring back their heirlooms and their photographs. But maybe we can provide a better way of life. Maybe we can find some good out of this.

“It’s about fairness. It’s about dignity.”

For more of Ann Curry's interview with Brad Pitt, tune in to Wednesday's "Nightly News" and Thursday's "TODAY."

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