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House of the Rising Sun: In New Orleans, Solar Power Gives Poor Families a Boost

“It’s expensive to be poor, and nowhere is that truer than in energy."


The headquarters of the solar-energy company Sustainable Environmental Enterprises is a green oddity in this rough part of New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood. The butterfly-winged roof and lopsided, Lego building design, complete with a money green paint job, fits anything but neatly in this residential neighborhood where run-down shotgun-style houses are strewn amidst blighted properties.

Economic development and political power may have overlooked this community in favor of tourist magnets like the French Quarter, but SEE CEO Lea Keal, 32, and board chairman Stacey Danner, 37, see only opportunity in helping develop this community and others like it by providing access to solar power.

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Yesterday, Pittsburgh native Liana Maneese was trying to get to a meeting in East Liberty for an organization called GET Larimer (short for Green Environmental Tourism). The organization is composed of thirtysomething, sustainable-economy-minded business owners, social innovators, engineers and real estate developers who are working together to transform Larimer-one of Pittsburgh's most blighted neighborhoods. Through revitalization efforts like urban gardening and solar-panel powering, GET is turning lifelong residents into entrepreneurs and shareholders of new neighborhood businesses. Their first event, which is being held today, was on the agenda for the meeting. Maneese was sidetracked.

On her way to the meeting, she was derailed by the hundreds of riot-geared police who inconvenienced not just protesters, but also locals trying to get around town. "Regular, everyday, normal people were kinda turned into protesters by the police just because we didn't know what was going on," says Maneese. "I felt like, if this is how they're treating us, how are the people who are actually fighting for human rights being treated?"

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A fenced-off block in downtown Pittsburgh made opaque by a huge wraparound sheet has been rumored to be the designated internment area for protesters nabbed by police. In reality, the sheet is a canvas hung to display a welcoming mural for the world leaders at the G20 Summit. While thousands of activists and sojourners are assembled for rallies, marches and demonstrations near Pittsburgh's David H. Lawrence Convention Center, where the summit is being held, approximately 60 teens and a dozen local artists will be hoisting paintbrushes in the air for a public art project.Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh sits) allowed a local Pittsburgh arts organization called Moving the Lives of Kids Community Mural Project, along with the ONE Campaign, to create a massive mural, intended to welcome-rather than protest-the summit. The mural includes the flags of each of the countries represented at the G20, along with a historic figure or icon from each nation that symbolizes an artistic or scientific contribution made to the world. Sweden is represented by Alfred Nobel, England by Shakespeare, India by Ghandi and the United States by Andy Warhol, an obvious pick given the eccentric artist's Pittsburgh roots.

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