There’s been a lot of talk since Sandy passed through about rebuilding better, smarter, and cleaner. Well, here’s a real-life example of how that can actually work. In New Orleans, the St. Thomas Housing Project did not fare so well during Hurricane Katrina. But now it’s been reborn as the mixed-income River Garden Apartments, and has become the largest solar neighborhood in the southeastern United States.

Spread over eight blocks and about one square mile of land, the buildings all have solar panels installed on their roofs. All told, there’s 420 kW of solar power distributed across the neighborhood, making this the largest solar project of any kind in Louisiana. And the system has safety mechanisms built in that would keep damaged panels from starting fires — so next time a hurricane blows through, these innovations won’t become more trouble than they’re worth.

For all the talk out there about clean energy, in neighborhoods like this one, these visions are becoming real. This is how you do it.

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