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Exploring the New New Orleans

Ben Jaffe (left) and Charlie Gabriel of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, outside the French Quarter club.

Photo: Cedric Angeles

The Wasteland

On one of our drives, Mouton and I come to a stop in the Lower Ninth Ward. Off in the distance is a gray cement wall that looks a bit like the Berlin Wall before graffiti—the new levee. This is the epicenter of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which commissioned sustainable housing from cutting-edge architects. The houses are futuristic, faintly Californian, and raised on concrete pillars. They sit in mostly empty fields.

“There was a lot of what you could call intellectual carpetbagging after Katrina,” Mouton says. ”A whole phenomenon of foundations coming down, and whatever they did was sure to receive acknowledgment.” The Ninth Ward is now, five years after the fact, largely a destroyed wasteland, and every instance of a rebuilt house, by Pitt or someone else, looks like an enormous victory. And there are more and more of them, making inroads against the empty lots. You have to admire Pitt’s project for its energy, vision, philanthropy. If it’s the future, the future feels strange.

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