THE BLOG
08/04/2010 08:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Zero Destruction

It is exactly a year since my last post here. I got what I wanted: Bush out, Obama in.

Now, a new concept: Zero Destruction.

Last year, our neighborhood in New York City was fighting a plan to tear down half a city block of buildings from the 1920s and early 1940s. These had been built to last centuries, and most of my neighbors saw the folly of razing great old buildings and putting up new ones that could only be far flimsier. We protested, the Zoning Board agreed with us, and the plan has been cut back to keep the Great Old Buildings.

In the 1950s and 1960s, New York went on a pointless destruction rampage. The most prominent victim was Pennsylvania Station (modeled on the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, still standing twenty centuries after construction). Alas, the old Penn Station had little more than fifty years of life before it was razed in 1965 and replaced with something tacky and hideous. It was from that destruction that the preservationist movement in New York was born. Grand Central Station and countless other Great Old Buildings were saved

In the era of global warming and climate change, the whole situation last year in our neighborhood made me think about how pervasive is such thoughtless destruction.

And so, I roll out today the concept of Zero Destruction.

Perhaps someone who reads this will help me do the math on the environmental effects of pointless destruction.

What are the effects on global warming of a policy of unthinking destruction?

In the stimulus plan, funds are set aside for building and job creation, but I would like to introduce the concept of Zero Destruction into our calculations.

And now a story of a city where Zero Destruction is becoming serious.

Since my last post a year ago, I have been concentrating on the production of The Death of the Forest, an opera I wrote using music I chose by Charles Ives (1874-1954), America's first great composer. The Death of the Forest is about King Philip's War between the English settlers and the Native tribal people in New England in the 1670s, proportionally the bloodiest war in our history.

The Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts/MIFA in Holyoke is producing The Death of the Forest. In September, MIFA's executive artistic director, Donald T. Sanders, realized a decade-long dream and bought the Victory Theatre, a Great Old Building built in Holyoke in 1919. After extensive restoration it will open New Year's Eve 2012. And The Death of the Forest will have its world premiere in the Victory soon after.

Holyoke has the distinction of being the world's first planned industrial city, with canals and mills. Incorporated in the 1850s, it became the fourth richest city in the country, after New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Then came the Crash of 1929, and soon Holyoke was one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts.

Over the decades some Great Old Buildings there were torn down, but many still stand. Now Holyoke is becoming an arts destination. Buildings like the Victory are being preserved and restored. The old mills have become artists' studios. The Amtrak station, another Great Old Building, long shut down, will reopen, and the trains will stop in Holyoke once again.

The city has a high unemployment rate, and its restoration and rebirth will bring good jobs.

Since 1994, MIFA has brought dozens of artists and companies to the area: Vanessa Redgrave, Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Berliner Ensemble, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Dublin's Gate Theatre, Moscow's Helikon Opera Company, and William Kentridge's Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa.

December 3 to 5, Shakespeare's Globe Theater company from London will present Love's Labour's Lost.

More later on the concept of Zero Destruction.

I hope readers will send ideas and stories from their locales and lives.