EcoDistricts Member Spotlight: Farr Associates

Farr Associates is a firm of optimistic architects and planners passionate about cities, sustainability and leadership. Their planners and architects work in integrated design teams to create award-winning designs from close collaboration with clients on projects that aspire to attain social, economic and environmental goals, often at the crossroads of urbanism and architecture. As a new EcoDistricts board member, Farr Associates’ president Doug Farr is excited to help EcoDistrics define a long-term definition of success and identify necessary strategies and actions. 

How many employees work at Farr Associates?

We’re a small, but mighty office of 16 architects, urban designers, planners, and
administrative staff.

How many states/countries do you have offices?

We’ve been one office in Chicago for the past 27 years.

Why did you become an EcoDistricts Member?

Principal Doug Farr was a founding member of USGBC’s LEED Neighborhoods Core
Committee, writing and rolling out the rating system. It addressed the green building
movement’s disconnect at the time of undervaluing the environmental benefits of
urbanism. LEED Neighborhoods pushed back at the idea that a LEED Platinum building
could be located on a greenfield site that was only accessible by driving.
We’ve always considered EcoDistricts a partner in this regard of scaling up
sustainability. EcoDistricts recognizes that building sustainable communities is
geographically based, and is most powerful when done above the scale of an individual

EcoDistricts is an opportunity to take the work we do with LEED Neighborhoods, which
optimizes sustainability around a project, largely being done at one time by one entity,
and translating it to neighborhood contexts where there is not one managing entity–
which is the reality in most places. EcoDistricts focuses on preexisting and diverse
communities, and we’re excited to be a part of your process in translating a huge
reserve of potential energy from engaged neighborhood leaders into to action on the

How are our resources and connections influencing your work?

We see EcoDistricts as a great platform to bring the work of siloed groups into greater
alignment. We are also excited to see how our strong existing connections with CNU
and LEED Neighborhoods can be leveraged.

What makes you and Farr Associates most excited about EcoDistricts?

As a new EcoDistricts board member, Farr Associates’ president Doug Farr is excited to help the organization craft their “Theory of Change”– defining a long-term definition of success and then mapping backward to identify necessary strategies and actions. The concept of Theory of Change is an important concept in Doug’s upcoming book Sustainable Nation, which makes the case for how society can change faster than we ever have before.

How are you planning on utilizing the Member benefits in the coming year?

As Ally Members, we are excited to use our free registration to the Atlanta Summit and the quarterly webinars. The access to the Information Exchange is also a valuable resource for the latest on district-scale innovations that we plan to both utilize for research and to contribute our own work.

Why is equity, sustainability and resilience important to you and Farr Associates?

Farr Associates was founded in 1990 with a mission to build green buildings and
neighborhoods. The intended consequences of this were reducing our carbon
footprint and making neighborhoods more walkable. Today, we operate with an intent
to innovate, tracking opportunities to achieve local, regional or even global firsts. Our
best work results from close collaboration with clients on projects that aspire to attain
social, economic and environmental goals, often at the crossroads of urbanism and

In 2016, we became an Illinois Benefit Corporation, which means we must
demonstrate a positive and measurable impact on society, employees, and the
environment. While we have been doing this since 1990, we are excited to start
defining, tracking, and publishing this information as part of a Benefit Corporation

What emerging priorities do you see as most important in your work?

One of the emerging ideas in Sustainable Nation is the concept that we need a “New
Health, Safety, and Welfare.” The initial ideas on HSW were established to address 19 th
Century American, urban problems like fires, structurally unsound buildings, and over-
crowding. The architecture, engineering, and urban planning professions rose to the
occasion, and they worked together over many years, through policies and regulations,
to solve these issues. It’s a success story. But we’re in the 21 st Century now, and the
professional HSW imperatives need to shift to embrace today’s challenges– people
killed by cars and inactive lifestyles.

What do you see as the most important innovation in your field of the past

We believe that the work being done right now in the social sciences of behavior
economics and heuristics are intricately linked to our fields of architecture and urban
design. We’re just beginning the process of adjusting our approach to how we interact
with communities to overcome our human wiring and base instincts to resist change.
How you frame things is incredibly powerful, and we think it’s how we’ll be able to
persuade people to change course within one generation and wake up tomorrow to
make different choices.

What have you found to be the greatest obstacle to district-scale work?

The challenge of district-scale work is often knowing exactly the change which needs to
be made, but having to work within the existing system (utilities, infrastructure,
municipal authorities), without any decision-making power. Getting this diverse buy-in
from all stakeholders is where the governance component of the EcoDistricts Protocol
so is beneficial.


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