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Video: Brad Pitt’s gift to New Orleans

TODAY contributor
updated 12/3/2007 9:08:15 AM ET 2007-12-03T14:08:15

Actor-activist Brad Pitt greenlighted a bold initiative this summer to start making things better in New Orleans’ flood-devastated Lower 9th Ward. Now, he’s expanding on that with a new foundation called “Make It Right,” pledging that the first of at least 150 environmentally friendly homes will be ready by next summer.

After his family, rebuilding New Orleans is his top priority, he told TODAY’s Ann Curry during a live interview Monday in the Lower 9th Ward. Curry asked if that means it comes ahead of making films.

“Sure, I guess so,” he said. “Right now, this is the focus, and we’re going to see this thing through.”

“We’re going to start with 150 homes,” he told Curry as they strolled through the razed neighborhood, which is decorated with the forms of building components — roofs, walls, foundations — draped in dark pink canvas to attract attention to his cause.

Like the project he announced in August of this year in partnership with Global Green, an environmental organization specializing in eco-friendly construction, Make It Right aims to provide affordable housing in the Lower 9th Ward that will make maximum use of solar and wind energy to reduce utility costs by as much as 65 percent.

And Pitt is putting his money where his mouth is. He's pledged $5 million toward the reconstruction.

“This area where we’re standing right now, they lost over 5,000 [homes],” he said. “I’m hoping we can expand over to the rest of New Orleans. There’s no reason why we need to stop here. It’s just going to be if we can get the financial support to make up the difference people need to return to their homes.”

He’s asking for money to make it happen. “This is an adopt-a-house campaign,” he said. “I’m asking for foundations, for high net-worth individuals, for church groups, for corporations to come in to adopt a home. Basically, $150,000 will get a family back in their home.”

He’s got a Web site where individuals can help by adopting a low-flush toilet or a solar panel as a Christmas gift to a family that needs a home. “I’m going to get my dad a tankless water heater,” he quipped.

He said he expects to have families moving into homes by the end of next summer.

Ultimately, Pitt, an architecture buff, would like to see housing that requires no outside energy at all. During his last appearance on TODAY in August, when he took Ann Curry on a tour of the first units being built by Global Green, he said, “The idea that we pay utility bills is absolutely unnecessary. And I mean, there's the sun, you feel the breeze that's being created here, and we got water right out there. Any one of these can be harnessed, and we can integrate ourselves into that ecosystem and not only power our houses but actually produce energy for other parts of the city.”

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The concept of recycling everything so that development is self-sustaining is called “Cradle to Cradle,” a term coined by Walter R. Stahel some 30 years ago and popularized by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.”

William McDonough + Partners architects are one of the groups who have partnered with Pitt in the Make It Right foundation. A total of 14 architects are involved in the team, which has developed Make It Right in close consultation with community leaders in the Lower 9th Ward.

The initial goal of Make It Right is to build 150 homes. The Global Green project is building 18 apartments and five homes.

The kick-off of Make It Right is a day-long affair that began with his TODAY Show tour with Curry, moved to a press conference and was to end with an evening dinner party in honor of the Lower 9th Ward residents.

Longtime love of NOLA
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August of 2005. Since then, despite promises to quickly to rebuild the city, large areas are still devastated and unoccupied. The city’s work force is still 80 percent what it was before the hurricane, the population is down 40 percent, National Guard troops are still performing basic law enforcement, and tourism is down by 30 percent. Work on a new flood control system is still more than two years away from completion.

Pitt first fell in love with the Big Easy in 1994 when he was filming “Interview with the Vampire” there. Earlier this year, he and Angelina Jolie purchased a home in the French Quarter while he was filming “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and they’ve made the city their home.

Pitt, 43, has been as famous for his love life as for his acting career. A perennial on various lists of the most handsome men in America, he’s a good friend of George Clooney’s and appeared with Clooney and Matt Damon in “Ocean’s Eleven” and its sequels, “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

His first mainstream role was in the 1991 hit, “Thelma & Louise.” In following years he starred in “A River Runs Through It,” “True Romance,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “Twelve Monkeys,” “Meet Joe Black,” “Being John Malkovich,” “Fight Club” and “Troy.”

He married actress Jennifer Aniston after a two-year courtship in 2000, then sparked tabloid headlines five years later when he was photographed with actress Angelina Jolie, a romance that was sparked when the pair worked together in “Mr.& Mrs. Smith.”

After divorcing Aniston, Pitt and Jolie moved in together. They have one natural daughter, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, born on May 27, 2006, and four adopted children, Maddox Chivan, Pax Thien and Zahara Marley.

Since becoming involved with Jolie, Pitt has become increasingly involved in social issues both in third-world nations and in the United States.

He’s doing more than paying lip service to his vow to help rebuild the city’s poorest and most devastated areas.

He’s worked on the construction sites and he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Both Pitt and Steve Bing, a philanthropist, real estate developer, movie producer and father of Liz Hurley's child, have each pledged to match $5 million in donations.

“It's the most unique city that we have in the States,” he told “The Times-Picayune” newspaper in May. “It has an energy like no other place ... I absolutely love it there. We moved our family there.”

Curry asked him how he finds time to devote to this cause. “I see this as a great opportunity,” he replied. The hurricane, he said, “left a big scar. People are in limbo. I find this more fulfilling than any film I’ve been in.”

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