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Cheap, clean and green

21st century neighborhood takes shape in the 9th Ward

August 29, 2007

Elizabeth teel galante says there is a reason New Orleans never embraced the "green building" movement before Hurricane Katrina: The economy was so slow that very little was being built.

Today, New Orleans needs to rebuild thousands of homes, and Galante's nonprofit, the Santa Monica-based Global Green USA, has stepped in to push aggressively for environment-friendly building practices.

The group's most visible project is in the Holy Cross section of the Lower 9th Ward. There, among shotgun homes in varying states of disrepair, the organization is building an ultra-modern, low-income mini-neighborhood of five houses, 18 apartments and a community center.

All will be tricked out with the latest environmental gadgets: solar roofs, recycled carpeting, cisterns to catch rainwater, and geothermal heat pumps, which use ground heat to fuel air-conditioning systems.

For a neighborhood that was long on tradition and short on innovation, the project feels revolutionary. Though only a few 9th Ward residents will benefit from the project, it is part of a larger plan to show how modest homes here can be built to high environmental standards.

"We want to demonstrate to the residents of New Orleans and the South that these kinds of building can be built," Galante said. "We don't have many examples here, because it just wasn't done before. We want to demystify it."

Global Green has become one of the best-known of the many environmental groups working in the city, mainly because of its partnership with actor Brad Pitt, who helped judge the design contest for the green building project.

The group has also received $2 million from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund to improve air quality and soundproofing in public schools.

Galante, a former deputy director of Tulane University's Environmental Law Clinic, has been lobbying city and state officials to adopt green policies, with some success. The group recently helped the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency craft green building guidelines for developers planning to erect federally subsidized low-income housing.

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