Through Design, Landscape Architect Improves Community and Business

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When Rebecca Bradley and Gage Couch left the corporate world in 2010 to open the landscape architecture firm Cadence in downtown Fort Lauderdale, they wanted to do business in a way that reflected their values. So, they adopted a “triple bottom line” business model. As they work with public and private clients to design outdoor spaces, they approach each project through a People-Planet-Profit lens.

3-P Approach

Explaining first the “planet” part of the equation, Rebecca says, “We’re trying to constantly measure how a project performs environmentally—how it responds in context with the local vegetation, how it minimizes storm water runoff, reduces water use, reduces the heat island effect. Then socially, [we ask], how does it benefit the client’s quality of life? How does our design solution improve the local community? Economically, how does it improve property values? And then, of course, how does it improve our business? That’s how we’re trying to make sure that we’re hitting the principles of Conscious Capitalism.”

Rebecca admits the balanced business model is not always easy to maintain. “You’re constantly having to retool how you do things to make sure that you’re still hitting on these principles. It’s a constant challenge but it’s one that we truly believe in. The more landscape architects that are doing great work…the more livable cities will become.”

Choosing Clients

“One of the main reasons we wanted to start our own business was so that we could really try to do business with like-minded people,” Rebecca says about the firm’s client base. “They are out there. A lot of times when a client comes to us and they’re prospecting us, we’re prospecting them just as much, to see if that’s the right type of project for us to work on and the right type of client. You really have to try to find the folks that either already believe in those principles, or are open minded and are interested in collaborating with you.”

Making Short-Term Sacrifices 

Being selective has come with some sacrifice. You have to be so patient,” Rebecca says. ‘We probably could have grown faster, both in the number of projects and in profits, if we were just taking on everything that came to us. But when you look at it in a sustainable way, what makes sense to us is making sure that each project we take on makes our portfolio even stronger and builds this reputation that we have. At times we probably slowed growth but…it’s not just short-term, knee-jerk decisions. You’re trying to look at what make sense over a long period of time.”

Pleasing Purposeful Employees

In addition to balancing client and project interests, Rebecca says, “We are also trying to make sure there’s a balance to the quality of life employees have when they’re working—being cognizant of time and time management—so that employees are enjoying their work life; enjoying their personal life.” Rebecca says her staff takes pride and ownership in their work because they can see how the spaces they design are improving their community.

Engaging the Community

Intentionally located in the Flagler Art & Technology area of Fort Lauderdale, otherwise known as the FATVillage Art District, Cadence gets involved in the community’s monthly art walk by hosting a free Saturday evening open house. “We feature different educational exhibits, different emerging artists; sometimes we feature our own work for public projects that we’re working on,” Rebecca says.

Over the years, Cadence has done several “tactical urbanism” projects to contribute to the community and demonstrate how neighborhoods can be improved. One such project is Parking Day, which takes place worldwide once a year. “It’s where city meter parking spots are turned into parks for the day,” Rebecca says.

In 2012 the firm conducted a large-scale tactical urbanism project as part of the Better Block Movement. “We did a one-day makeover of an entire city block [to show] what it could be like if there were better designed sidewalks, if the parking lot were more organized, if there were trees and landscaping, seating—and that was all done with our donated time.”

Seeing the Impact

The firm’s involvement in these and many similar projects seems to be making a positive impact. “It’s generating the public to understand the importance of these things in their neighborhood and in our city, and they become advocates and they become engaged,” Rebecca says. “We see conversations changing, and developers and cities wanting to do different things and in better ways because these sorts of things are happening. It’s exciting to see. It doesn’t happen instantaneously, but over time you see that it was worth those efforts.”

Raising Awareness

To continue building awareness, the firm showcases client projects on social media in a way that educates followers on the benefits well-designed outdoor spaces can have on people’s well-being, on businesses and on the economy.  In addition, Rebecca and Gage speak at conferences about topics such as the livability of cities, the art of landscape architecture, and the importance of art in the public realm.

“Those are all things we are passionate about and that we built into the model of our business,” Rebecca says. “We don’t just write out a check to charities at the end of the year [as the way to] give back to the community. Engaging in a more personal way is really more helpful and quite honestly makes more sense for a business of our size.”

Growing Conscious Capitalism in Florida

Regarding the current state of Conscious Capitalism in Florida, Rebecca says, “In our state, especially in South Florida, doing business in this way is very much still on the periphery… but I would say since the inception of our business in 2010, I do see a change for sure here in 2016. It’s becoming much more talked about, and you’re not seen as such an oddball if you’re trying to go about doing business in that way.

“For both myself and my business partner, it is the way we think business should be done, and we’re proving that it could be done that way. Any type of business you start, it’s not going to be easy; you’re always going to have challenges, but this was just a good fit for us to create a business model like this—and it’s working!

“You already have beautiful weather, you live in a coastal landscape, and people are already wanting to come here,” Rebecca says. “It’s this [conscious business] part of it—if that could just improve, you elevate and make this even more of a desirable location for people to travel, for people to live year-round, and for businesses to invest in.”

Nola’s podcast interview with Rebecca is available here.