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Chicago's number one green-building architect isn't satisfied, according to a recent Grist magazine profile. Doug Farr's firm has produced more buildings that earned the platinum (highest) rating on the LEED green-building standard than any other architectural firm. (The number is two.) But a green building, after all, can be plunked down anywhere in a distinctly non-green way.
So Farr has been working on LEED-ND standards for entire neighborhoods. "There is so much effort that goes into designing and building this one small thing, this single green building," he tells Charles Shaw (who edits Chicago's edition of Conscious Choice, and was the subject of Mike Miner's Reader column for October 20). "The same amount of effort goes into planning two square miles of regular neighborhood, and that will serve us for the next 200 years. [The focus on individual buildings] just doesn't make any sense."
The firm's Web site briefly summarizes and maps (PDF) its work on the recent Chicago zoning reform, pushing "continuous streeetwalls [along sidewalks], high levels of window transparency, and entrances to shops at sidewalks. Any associated parking is to be located behind buildings, and auto-oriented uses, such as drive-thrus, will be prohibited on designated 'P Streets'" -- in other words, drawing a line against creeping suburbanism.
Farr's book -- you knew there was a book -- will be called Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature. There is already a shelf full of similar titles, but we can hope this one will be more specific.
No matter how good it is, though, it's really just a holding action. Farr knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and women. No book and no set of standards will get very far as long as we can still afford not to go green. "There is no measure of shame or guilt that will stop people from unsustainable practices, only price will." When the prices go up, he aims to be ready.