Actor Brad Pitt is scheduled to announce plans to create more than 100 affordable, ecologically sound homes in the Lower 9th Ward. This weekend, big pink houses were installed in the flood-ravaged neighorhood as symbolic stand-ins for those homes.
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Ivory Porter Webb was first perplexed, then giddy with excitement, on Saturday afternoon, just before dusk.
As she drove across the Claiborne Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal, she noticed something peculiar.
A few blocks in the Lower 9th Ward, along the levee from North Derbigny to North Galvez streets, were studded with odd, very large pink blocks, as big as houses, 100 or more of them, with pink roof shapes lying beside them on empty lots.
The empty lots had been a neighborhood until they were scoured by surging floodwaters after the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina, then were scoured again months later by bulldozers after the houses that had stood there were deemed unsalvageable. Now big pink blocks stood everywhere.
The pink blocks look stark and strange in the otherwise brown and olive landscape, like enormous, blank Monopoly houses. They could be mistaken for art, as if Christo, the master environmental artist who wraps whole buildings, bridges and even islands in garish fabric, had been at work.
But the pink blocks may be more than artistic. They may be symbolic stand-ins for real houses to come.
On Monday at 11 a.m., actor Brad Pitt is scheduled to stand in the surrealistic scene and announce details of his “Make it Right” project, a plan to create more than 100 affordable, ecologically sound homes where the pink shapes now stand.
On Nov. 9, at the Clinton Global Initiative in Manhattan, Pitt pledged $5 million to the project, challenging others to match his largess. Producer and environmental philanthropist Steve Bing contributed $5 million. A team of architects led by John Williams of New Orleans began designing the homes.
“Oh my God, all these pink roofs,” Webb recalled saying as she crossed the bridge. “What are they?” she asked herself. “Let me see.”
She stopped to investigate, parking in the strange construction site, where scores of workers were assembling metal scaffolding to form the house shapes, then attaching heavy pink tarpaulin skins with cable ties.
Forklifts rumbled here and there. A few spectators wandered between the tentlike structures. A pair of children played peek-a-boo from inside one pink house as their mother watched from nearby.
The mother looked familiar to Webb. Slender, dark-haired, with high cheekbones and full lips, wearing an elegant black shift — it was actress Angelina Jolie.
Webb took a chance and approached the star and the handful of people around her, including a large, attentive man who hovered a few yards away. Webb told Jolie again and again how appreciative she was for her and her husband’s continued interest in New Orleans.
In 2006, Pitt joined with the environmental organization Global Green to announce plans to build affordable housing in another Lower 9th Ward neighborhood, Holy Cross, where work on the first model home continues.
In January, Pitt and Jolie bought a house in New Orleans where the family stayed during the filming of Pitt’s film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which is due out in 2008.
Now Pitt and Jolie are back, lending their considerable cachet to another Crescent City project.
As Webb said later, “It is really nice. They’re showing us they ain’t forgot about us.”
As their conversation ended, Webb apologized to Jolie for having intruded. “I don’t want you think I’m a lunatic,” she said.
But Jolie invited her to a party Monday night, Webb said as she walked to her car, excitedly recounting her celebrity encounter.
Jolie caught up with Pitt a half-block closer to the river as he was bicycling around the surrealistic site in a gray sweatshirt and cap. He posed for a photograph with an admirer and watched the children splash their feet in a puddle. Then he peddled off.
As the sun set, a group of workers gathered in an empty part of the strange development. With a collective groan they lifted one of the enormous pink blocks. It settled smoothly and silently on a barren lot.
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