Kaufman Development brings conscious communities to Ohio’s capital
It’s a question many of us have been asking over the last year especially. “How do we make the human experience a better one?”
Brett Kaufman has been asking himself that much of his life. For the last couple of decades, the Kaufman Development CEO has been dedicated to building “conscious communities” in his corner of the world—the Columbus, Ohio, area—as his answer to the question.
In Kaufman’s reckoning, a conscious community brings awareness and intention to how people live, work, and connect to one another in a way that enhances their lives for the benefit of the broader community and the world at large.
Kaufman Development’s latest project is Gravity in Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood. It’s focused on well-being, creative expression, and impact, the hallmarks of Kaufman’s conscious community efforts.
“There’s a lot within each of those,” he said. “On the expressions side, there’s a lot of art and music, dance, and ways for people to express themselves fully. It may be in a way they don’t usually have in their day-to-day lives or careers.” With a lot of artists-in-residence, a good chunk of the community helps lead the way for those others.
“In the well-being world, there’s a lot that we are focused on relative to mental health and physical health,” he said. Gravity has a transcendental meditation center, yoga, nutritional programs, and a gym.
“On the impact front, we have joint-ventured with an organization to provide philanthropic opportunities at the touch of a button for our residents to engage in the broader community. We’re home to a nonprofit coffee shop focused on tackling human trafficking. We have the largest single-day fundraising for cancer research headquartered there: Pelotonia, which has raised over $200 million.”
Collectively, that makes up the conscious part of the community, Kaufman said.
There are also subtler touches, uplifting design elements that subconsciously brighten people’s days. The Bark office at Gravity was among Inc.’s World’s Coolest Offices in 2019 thanks to its dog-friendly cubbies and outdoor dog run. There are 70,000 square feet of murals by local and international artists in Gravity. Even the lighting and paint color schemes have been designed to be soothing.
Little surprises sprinkled throughout the community greet residents with inspirational quotes or invitations to stop and take a breath. Even the sewer grates are artistically designed.
It creates a physical environment aimed at making people feel good about where they live and work.
Work & Play
The mixed-use conscious community contains the aforementioned coffee shop to start your day, a microbrewery to unwind at the end as a well as a mix of tech startups and venture capital companies. The second phase of Gravity will feature an urgent care center affiliated with a local hospital.
The office building and residential building share common space and amenity space. Every office floor and residential unit has a balcony. There are three rooftop spaces, large courtyards, and each restaurant in the community offers outdoor seating. Not only does it make for a pleasant and balanced work and home space, it’s been a great place to be during a pandemic.
“People have really come together,” Kaufman said. “We’ve provided a lot of content and virtual experiences, people out on their mats doing yoga and exercise. We’ve had the symphony come for concerts, outdoor movie nights, and plenty of virtual volunteer opportunities. We were engaged in an initiative called Gravity Uplift in which we had artists come and build mobile murals to take to hospitals and frontline workers.
“There’s been a robust level of activity with people being home and looking for things that they can safely do. The engagement has been really strong and people are connecting to their neighbors. It’s been a huge shot in the arm for groups like ours that have already been positioned to focus on building community at home and at work and be innovative in doing that. A pivot to virtual wasn’t a challenge for us.”
What goes into a conscious community?
As with any real estate venture, location plays a key role. “There’s some connectivity to the surrounding community,” Kaufman said. “Franklinton is really an up-and-coming creative arts district that has had a real grassroots, organic effort to make it something not gentrified and very preserved and protected. When we see that, that’s exactly where we want to go because we also want to create something that has real uniqueness and meaning and is going to be something we are passionate about.”
Kaufman Development strives to make sure any development will be additive to the neighborhood. The projects need to have a good foundation for success so they can continue to spread the gospel of conscious communities. Innovation is a must.
“The architecture has to be something you haven’t seen before. It’s got to be reflective of what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s got to be contextual to the neighborhood. We really cherish the desire and want to make sure it’s really innovative and long-lasting.”
Sustainability goes into the design and construction of conscious communities, and they feature free recycling, composting, and organic gardens.
“It’s encompassing more than just building materials,” Kaufman said. “It’s more about wellness as a sustainable measure.”
What goes out?
“The thing that people really notice when they enter into the neighborhood and our community is, it’s really unique. There’s nothing like it. You can feel it and you can see it. The design, the artwork, it’s overwhelming in a good way. It’s everywhere. It mirrors that tangible feeling,” Kaufman said.
“This hasn’t been about a brand position or a trend for us. My entire career has been about self-expression and creating something that I thought would solve problems that I was experiencing or that others were experiencing as well: how to love where you live, how to enjoy your work, how to connect with people, how to have access to the things you’re passionate about.”
Making life better for a community helps the members of that community bring that joy and passion to the world. “That’s why we do what we do,” Kaufman said. That’s the core of a conscious community.