Green Buildings Spring From Katrina Aftermath

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In this month’s blog, I want to take a look at how New Orleans has recovered in the 10 years (almost to the day) since being struck by Hurricane Katrina, which left the city in devastation. In a dramatic turn of events, individuals and organizations united in an effort to rebuild the city, and they went above and beyond to make New Orleans not only better than it had been before, but also better than nearly every other city in the country when it comes to sustainable living.

New Orleans now serves as a model for the transformation of other communities throughout the nation, and much of this can be attributed to a surprising sponsor: actor Brad Pitt and his Make It Right foundation. However, he was not alone in his efforts. The idea for rebuilding the city with sustainability in mind was conceived by Matt Petersen, the CEO of the environmental nonprofit Global Green USA.

Petersen witnessed the destruction of New Orleans firsthand and several members of Global Green attended a planning meeting hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in November 2005, the product of which was the New Orleans Principles, a 10-point, 27-page outline for rebuilding the city.

Global Green opened a regional office shortly after the meeting in March 2006, and soon afterward, he partnered with Pitt and Make It Right to transform the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest-hit sections of New Orleans, into the first fully green neighborhood in the United States.

According to a recent article in Time Magazine, Make It Right has already completed more than 100 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, and all of them are LEED Platinum certified, which is the highest level of certification offered by the USGBC.

New Homes Include Recycled Countertops

before-after-556x280Make It Right plans to continue building new, LEED-Platinum homes until its original goal of 150 is reached, and all of these houses include the following features:

  • Rooftop solar panels to lower energy costs
  • Five-to-7-foot stilts to prevent future flood damage
  • Rooftop access to escape in case of flooding
  • Recycled countertops designed to reduce respiratory disease

Advocates of the plan point out that this initiative is not just to protect the environment. Green building provides numerous benefits to the inhabitants. “It’s not just because someone in the environmental community believes in green building,” said Taylor Royle, senior advisor for Make It Right. “Green building means lower bills, fewer trips to the hospital for children with asthma.”

The green homes in New Orleans have extremely low energy usage. Typical energy bills run only about $30 per month compared to $100 in conventional homes. The homes are also better equipped to resist hurricanes in the future than standards homes are.

In addition to offering guidance to Make It Right, Global Green took direct action with the Holy Cross Project, also in the Lower Ninth Ward. The Holy Cross Project includes five single-family homes, an 18-unit LEED Platinum apartment building, the first of its kind, a community center and a climate-action center.

What is even more amazing about this project is that the homes prove that sustainable and eco-friendly design does not have to be expensive. In addition to downloadsaving up to $3,600 per year in energy and water costs, the upfront price of these homes ranges from only $120,000 to $160,000 each.

Community Partnerships and Retrofit Homes

Global Green and Make It Right are not the only players in the game in New Orleans. Several community organizations have now joined their efforts in making the city a leader in sustainability. According to the Louisiana Chapter of the USGBC, commercial LEED projects jumped from one in 2005 to 84 now in development and 250 others registered but not yet begun. In addition, LEED-certified homes went from zero in 2005 to more than 500 today.

In addition to building new homes, the Christian Science Monitor reports that existing homes are being retrofit with eco-friendly materials, including solar-powered lighting and residential rain gardens.

Furthermore, the push for sustainable, eco-friendly homes, schools, public buildings and commercial buildings has revitalized the city’s economy. Mitch Landrieu, the current mayor of New Orleans, says that the city’s “green economy” could create up to 90,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

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