The outlines of an eco-friendly residential development backed by actor Brad Pitt were sketched on Thursday in a New Orleans neighborhood hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.
Environmental group Global Green USA, which is building the project, said in a ceremony it would break ground shortly on the first of five homes and an 18-unit housing project designed to use 40 percent less energy than standard residence.
At a 1.25-acre plot in the Holy Cross neighborhood in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, the dimensions of the first home, set to be completed by August, were marked with bales of hay.
The narrow, two-story house will borrow from New Orleans' traditional long, thin "shotgun" shacks but incorporate such things as solar energy panels and energy-efficient windows.
Pitt, who funded an architectural competition for the buildings and helped select the winning designs, was in Prague where his partner, Angelina Jolie, is filming a movie.
He said in a telephone interview he wants the project to be an example for building in a city still recovering from the 2005 storm, and in the rest of the world.
"Our hope is to use this as a template for other people who are rebuilding, a template for other communities in other parts of the U.S. and the world, because this is the paradigm we have to adopt," he said.
"We have to adopt it to get off our oil addiction, we have to adopt it for our health, we have to adopt it for financial reasons and we have to adopt it for respect of the future of the people who inhabit this place," said Pitt, who has a home in New Orleans' French Quarter.
Global Green said the Home Depot Foundation had agreed to be lead funder for the $9 million project, which is expected to be finished by August 2008.
Separately, it said it received $2 million from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund for a project to make New Orleans schools more environmentally friendly.
Pitt said the Holy Cross project was aimed at poor people, many of whom have been unable to return to New Orleans after fleeing Katrina.
It will include a community center that can provide temporary refuge if another storm hits, said Global Green president Matt Petersen.
Katrina caused 80 percent of the city to flood, and many areas, including the Lower Ninth Ward, are still damaged and mostly deserted.