Thank Heavens for Local Law 86

This Post was originally posted to Mike Lawler’s ecoTheaer blog on July 19, 2007. We are reposting it here to share this ecoTheater classic with new readers while MIke continues to regain his health. You can read his blog about his ongoing battle with cancer, The “C” Word, by clicking here.

In New York City there is a law called local law 86. Passed in 2005, it has just now taken effect, and is responsible for at least one thing in the green theater movement so far: convincing (through brute force, I suppose) Theatre For A New Audience (TFANA) to build their new space in Brooklyn’s BAM Cultural Center to meet Silver LEED status or better. Local law 86 states simply that any non City building (whether new construction or renovation) that receives either 50% of its capital or $10 million or more from NYC’s treasury is subject to the constraints of the ordinance, which requires compliance with USGBC’s LEED rating system. (It may be of note, that ALL city agency buildings are now required to meet this standard.)

I say that it convinced the historically vagabond theater company because that’s exactly what TFANA Managing Director Dorothy Ryan told me just yesterday. “Our [initial] attitude was probably, well, if the up front cost isn’t too high we’ll certainly look at it,” she said. “But other than that [green building] is a luxury.” Fortunately, with the help of city funds, and local law 86, Ryan and the rest of TFANA have come to see the advantages of building green. “The really good part of this story,” Ryan told me, “is that the more we’ve paid attention, the more we’ve learned, the more that we’ve really explored this, [green building] is something that our team has really embraced in a very genuine way.”

Ryan’s admission of TFANA’s initial unwillingness seems to be further indication of a preexisting attitude in the arts. While the typical reaction to green building that theaters and their directors seem to have (so far we can cite Portland Center Stage, American Players Theatre, and TFANA–all initially opposed to green building) may be understandable for the frequently cash-strapped arts organization mindset, it is nevertheless slightly bothersome. 

So, what is it? In the simplest of terms, it is the money. Michael Broh, production manager of American Players Theatre (APT), told me recently that though everyone involved with their new theater project is happy to consider the green building option, “if it came down to building a less sustainable building, or not building at all,” he said, “I think we would build the less sustainable one.” It is here that APT and I do not see eye to eye. The benefits, in my way of thinking, of adding an indoor space and possibly extending their operating season and expanding their repertoire, are not worth adding another conventional building (or two) to the world to further pollute and contaminate. Isn’t the business of theater dirty enough? Must we add more of them? There must come a time when the artists (and, frankly, business folks) running the theaters own up to their responsibility to their communities the way they would expect any other business entity to do so. With the attitudes that seem to exist–the notion that there just isn’t enough money to build green, to build conscientiously–one can only come to this conclusion: the driving force behind these projects is nothing but self-interest, and perhaps greed.

Ahem.

I am convinced that if more theater managers were either forced (as in the case of Dorothy Ryan and TFANA), or just took the time, to consider the long-term advantages of building green, most of them would come to the same sort of revelations that the folks at TFANA did. Perhaps all municipalities can follow in the footsteps of local law 86–there is nothing like folks with money (be they governments or rich benefactors) putting worthy conditions on the money they dole out.

%d bloggers like this: