Brad Pitt Says New Orleans is Getting It Right

© 2012 Photo by Kathy Finn

The day before he hosted a star-studded fundraising event for his Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans, actor Brad Pitt took time for an interview with writer Kathy Finn, for a Reuters news story. In addition to comments that appeared in that story, Pitt shared other thoughts about affordable housing, Make It Right and New Orleans. Here are some highlights.

Q. You launched Make It Right in 2007 with a goal of building 150 energy-efficient, environmentally friendly houses for Lower Ninth Ward residents whose homes were destroyed in the Hurricane Katrina flood. You've now built more than 75 homes. How does it feel to see this progress?

A. We've been there four years now, so I've gotten to know and care for a lot of the people. It's amazing, their heroics, their courage to come back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. It's really moving. You hear their stories and what they've been through, and even the decades of being marginalized before [Katrina]. And now this place that was [seen as] the least likely to come back, is the foremost high-performance [environmentally sustainable] neighborhood in the country. It's a story I get very excited about.

Q. The Make It Right homes have received certification as meeting the highest standards of sustainable, environmentally friendly construction by the U.S. Green Building Council. Before you started Make It Right, did you think about building things in that way?

A. I did, but I'm an architectural junkie, so I know what architects are playing with. A misconception about architecture is that it's just about aesthetics and how things look, and it's not. It's about how we move through our community, how we move through our house, how our daily lives are informed by our surroundings. And good architects address these things.

When I saw the frustration of people not being to return home, I felt like I knew enough smart people who could come and help build a bridge for those resilient people who were so determined. And if we're going to do it, are we going to build what was there before? I don't think that's right. I think we need to build for the future. If we're going to build affordable housing, does that mean we have to build inefficient buildings, with inefficient appliances and toxic materials that damage your health? Does it have to be that way? Or can we build a house with dignity, a house that respects the people who live in it, the environment and the future? Me being a father, these things are more on my mind now. So these are the things we asked the architects and engineers to address. This is about changing the way we do things, changing the way we think.

New Orleans is very diversified, it's a home of individuals, which I love, and I think is one of its strengths. It's a place that celebrates individuality and art. So we thought in the beginning, 'Let's not do the cookie cutter, which would be cheaper, but let's bring in architects to tackle this and see who comes up with what.' We wanted to let the families pick their home, their colors, their shapes, and watch the neighborhood grow. I have no idea what the neighborhood is going to look like, even two years from now, but to watch it take shape because of choices made by individuals is to me very organic and very rewarding.

Q. Your Make It Right fundraiser features a big lineup of celebrities and entertainers, from Sean Penn, Spike Lee and Kevin Spacey to Rihanna and Kanye West. Was it  difficult to get all those big names to participate?

A. Funny thing, not at all. It was much easier than I thought it would be. I just asked, and people said 'Yes, I'll be there.' I think that's a real credit to what this city represents, culturally, to the United States. Everyone's had their own experience and attachment to the place that would bring them here. We have people of course who are filming here, so they are coming. It's been a great place to film movies, and we try to get one here every year.

Q. Have you set a long-term goal for Make It Right?

A. Well, our total goal is global. Our initial goal is 150 homes here in New Orleans, but that doesn't finish us here by any means. We're going to expand on that. We need to plant the seed of what the Ninth Ward is in other places too.

My goal is to see this not as a one-off but as the norm. We've taken what we've learned here, and we've been able to help disabled veterans in Newark, on a joint project, and we're going to be able to help elderly people in Kansas City, and we're doing a clinic in Ethiopia, all under the mandate of Make it Right.  But we're not leaving New Orleans. This is our base. This is where the idea originated.

Q. Did your motivation for founding Make It Right arise in part from wanting to build a legacy aside from the film work that has made you famous?

A. I really don't think about legacy. I think about making things, like making films and stories, and I get that opportunity. I look at architecture in the same way. When it's all said and done, maybe I'll take inventory, but all I really want to do now is make things that are important to me.

Q. What's next for Make It Right?

A. Um, I can't announce it yet. I'd love to talk about it, and I love that question, I just can't talk about it yet. But I want to say, we're not going anywhere. Or rather, we're going everywhere, but we're not leaving. Our roots are here, we're going to take what we learned here and expand on that.

Q. How is your family, and where are they?

A. They're great, and they're here now. They love it here. They love New Orleans. They wish we were here all year long. When we come in here for an event, you know, it's problematic, because we bring a lot of [paparazzi] with us.  But sometimes we are able to sneak in quietly.

Q. Thanks for taking the time for an interview. I appreciate the opportunity.

A. I appreciate it too.

 

Epilogue: The Make It Right Fundraiser on March 10 reportedly raised $5 million that will be used to continue the building of new homes in the city's Lower Ninth Ward. Brad Pitt, his actress-partner Angelina Jolie and their six children spent the weekend at their French Quarter home in New Orleans before departing for one of their other homes, in Los Angeles and the south of France.

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