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Social Issues
This New Orleans Neighbourhood Came Back Greener And Cleaner After Katrina; Could It Work For Places
November 10, 2012
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Hurricane Sandy has caused serious damage in a lot of U.S. neighbourhoods, and the clean up effort is really just getting started.

To get an idea of how much the storm affected life in one part of the city, check out 'NYC Dark,' a series of timelapse videos showing Manhattan without power:

Elsewhere, the storm was responsible for the burning down of over 100 homes in the Breezy Point district of Queens, the flooding of many areas, and widespread destruction and power outages in various parts of the northeastern U.S.

While the devastation is very unwelcome, it's possible that the rebuilding process could be an opportunity to introduce new, more eco-friendly sources of energy.

That's what happened in the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans after Katrina.

Before the storm, St. Thomas was known mainly for its high crime rate.

After Katrina swept through, damaging buildings and infrastructure, a number of government agencies came together to rebuild and revitalize it with sustainable and renewable technologies.

Today, the area is known as the River Garden Apartments. It's a mixed-income neighbourhood covering eight blocks, and it's also the largest solar neighbourhood in the southeastern U.S.

Here's a plan of the new neighbourhood:

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Photovoltaic panels have been installed on the roofs of many buildings, providing a total of 420 kilowatts of energy.

That's enough to save residents $50 a month each on energy bills by harvesting energy from the sun.

And if another storm hits, the solar arrays have safety features built in that will prevent them from adding to the damage.

"Damaged arrays could potentially start arc faults and home fires," says Kathleen Zipp of Solar Power World. But a technology called SafeDC will prevent that from happening.

"[SafeDC] guarantees a safe installation with its inverters and power optimizers. This has special importance in hurricane-prone areas where flying debris resulting from high winds can damage solar installations."

The bottom line? After Katrina, what was once St. Thomas Housing Project became a more livable place, complete with sustainable, clean energy.

"This revitalized community is now able to sustain itself with reliable energy and will be able to stabilize their energy costs for the long term in a clean and sustainable way," according to Micah Galy of Pontchartrain Mechanical Co.

As for reconstructing areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, one group has already come up with a green plan

Architecture for Humanity, a group that has been working with Japan to rebuild many towns following damage from the 2011 tsunami, has created a five-point plan for post-Sandy reconstruction.

Here it is, with number five specifically recommending green building practices:

1. Enable our local chapters to provide technical assistance and support to existing recovery agencies.

2. Provide design and construction assistance to nonprofits and community-based organizations in affected communities to repair civic structures and public spaces.

3. Provide technical assistance to property owners, with a focus on small businesses and rental properties in low-income communities.

4. Provide community design, planning and architectural support to local agencies to rebuild and to develop model mitigation strategies, especially along the New Jersey shore.

5. Build back green. Provide assistance to replace outdated building systems with more sustainable energy-efficient solutions.

Architecture for Humanity is working with the American Institute of Architects to gather experts and volunteers to see their plan put into action. You can visit this page if you're interested in getting involved or donating.

As for solar power in New Orleans, the St. Thomas neighbourhood isn't the only game in town. Brad Pitt's Make It Right foundation has been working in various areas of the state to help rebuild homes with solar features.

Mike Holmes and architect Frank Gehry have both worked with Pitt's foundation on several houses in New Orleans, some of which include solar panels. Find out more about their work here.

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And the latest solar project from Make It Right involves another celebrity: Lil Wayne lent his name and support to the newly opened "Lil Wayne Skate Park".

The park is being billed as "the greenest skate park in the world." It's located in the Lower 9th ward, one of the hardest-hit areas during Katrina.

The solar power system will generate about 10,000 kWh of clean energy a year and supply the electricity for the associated community center and skate park - including lighting, fans, and computers.

Solar technology and reconstruction projects can get kind of complex. But this shot of Weezy shredding on his board? Pretty straightforward:

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Related:

So ... What Have Brad Pitt And Frank Gehry Been Up To?

This Solar-Powered Water Treatment Plant In India Is Run By High School Students

Solar-Powered Inventions for the Developing World

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