Ninth Ward, The Movie: How To Really Rebuild New Orleans

New Orleans is still struggling, especially its hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward. The economic recession has been bad news for development all over the world, and it's really not helping things down in New Orleans. The federal government's broke, states are cutting costs, and local government is practically bankrupt. But even in tough times, there is one place where business always seems to be good and money's always flowing: the movie industry. Maybe New Orleans should look to Hollywood as a means to recovery. It has the money, it has the incentive, and it's proven that it actually has the power to make it happen.

Movies can impact the real world, even in tangible ways. The 2008 film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" successfully restored a historic home more than 100 years old in New Orleans so it could be used as a movie set. Much of the credit for the preservation is due to the film's director, David Fincher, and its leading actor, Brad Pitt, now famous for his architectural affinities and interest in New Orleans. The home they restored for the film is now on the market for $2.85 million.

This is an idea that other filmmakers should look to emulate. Houses and small set areas are ideal for this sort of preservation. But why stop there?

With all the millions of dollars that get invested into single Hollywood movies, there is a great potential to build on the example of Fincher and Pitt and make movie that has a positive impact on a physical space.

Of course there are movies that do create a big impact, though not usually in the physical realm. A recent example of a film that had a widespread impact on society is "An Inconvenient Truth", which many credit with opening the conversation about climate change to the whole world. That film's director, Davis Guggenheim, spoke at the recent VerdeXchange green marketplace conference in Los Angeles, and he said that for films to have a real impact, they need to connect people with their message. In his case, "An Inconvenient Truth" made climate change a more approachable subject, and one that people could ultimately understand and relate with in the context of their own lives.

New Orleans' Ninth Ward is an obvious opportunity for a film that could connect with people and extend that connection out into the physical realm of the built environment. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government's lax response and the slow-to-recover city as a whole are still fresh in the minds of many Americans. Far more than a local news story, New Orleans struggles are a national (if not international) concern. So, for all you Planetizen readers in the movie business, listen up, because I have a golden film idea for you.

The premise is simple: rebuild the Ninth Ward.

It could be a dramatization of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath that has crippled a city and destroyed entire neighborhoods and communities. Just follow the lives of Katrina-struck New Orleanians in the Lower Ninth Ward as they struggle with the loss of their home and their community, and the dramatic rise back as they band together to rebuild. You can almost hear that intense movie preview voice gushing it out, can't you? "It's a long struggle back, but through perseverence, neighborly cooperation, and a whole lot of love, the Ninth Ward rises again."

New Orleans Home Destroyed by Hurricane Katrina

Now, I don't know no nothin' 'bout makin' moving pictures, but if they're like anything else, the budget is likely the most important part about getting anything going. So, to help you Hollywood bigwigs out, I've prepared a brief set of figures to spell out just how easy it would be for you to both make this film and bring the Ninth Ward back.

  • $100,000-$174,000: Average cost of new homes built through the Make It Right Foundation
  • 5,000: Roughly the amount of households in the Ninth Ward before Hurrican Katrina, according to 2000 Census figures
  • $500,000,000: Cost of rebuilding 5,000 homes at $100,000 each. This figure is probably way too high, as not every household in the Ninth Ward requires complete rebuilding. But it's a ball-park figure to help give an idea of the challenge facing the neighborhood.
  • $100,000,000: Rough cost of producing a modern Hollywood blockbuster.
  • One-Fifth: About how much of the neighborhood's households could be rebuilt if $100 million were spent on building homes. That's a pretty big set.
  • $400,000,000-$500,000,000: Gross revenue on a successful blockbuster. Popular Hollywood blockbusters typically rake in three to four times the amount invested. By re-investing some of that revenue, much of the rest of the neighborhood could then be rebuilt as well.

Admittedly, it's not quite so simple. People need to be compensated for their work, and Hollywood's got some pretty tough labor unions. But I can imagine at least one big-name Hollywood star who might be willing to donate his talents to such a film to help "Make It Right". As far as public relations are concerned, anyone involved with creating such a film would end up a saint. Imagine a hundred million filmmaking dollars invested in creating the most realistic set in the history of film, one that would stand for years and years after the cameras stopped rolling. That's the kind of physical impact filmmaking could have.

But that's just an idea. I'm obviously no Hollywood bigshot, so maybe I'm overlooking some obvious barriers. But the general idea is basic: moviemakers can do work that benefits the places where they work -- their economies, their communities and their built environments. The scope of that benefit will be affected by the budget, but is ultimately determined by the creativity and vision of filmmakers who realize they can truly make an impact outside of the theater.

So there's the idea. Take it. It's free. I don't even want residuals. Well, maybe an executive producer title...

Nate Berg is a contributing editor for Planetizen and freelance journalist.



rebuilding n'olns 9th ward

with people like Nate Berg as editors no wonder some planning articles are off the wall.

Be sure every housing structure is flood-proofed.
And subsidize the flood insurance.

Maybe a whole fleet of gigantic barges could be assembled and the homes built on top of them?
that would save them from flooding. and boost the boat building industry?

And if jobs were not available, just tow them to a fine anchorage where jobs are more plentiful.
Noah, are you listening?

5,000 households. hmm. city of about 15,000.
Get A Life!

There are lots of little towns, even parts of big towns, that could be reclaimed for all these big bucks. Without the danger of flooding again.

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