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`Cookie-Cutter' Homes Suit Some Critics' Taste After All

The Nation

Yes, it's suburbia. But at 25, a Denver-area master-planned community is finally getting some respect--if grudging.

July 24, 2006|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

After four years, she says proudly: "We live in Highlands Ranch. And we love it."

"There is a sense of this being an insta-community, with insta-homes, all cookie-cutter," said Matt Asik, 32, a high school math teacher. His students call Highlands Ranch "the bubble," he said, as in: "We have to get out of the bubble to experience anything."

But as he strolled into a recreation center to work out, Asik said: "As a place to live, I don't see how anything else can compare."

Robert Bruegmann, a professor of urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says criticism of Highlands Ranch must be put in historical context.

From ancient Rome on, he said, middle-class families have sought to escape the crowded, dirty inner city. Through the ages, the resulting sprawl has drawn derision from the urban elite.

As row houses sprouted on the outskirts of Victorian London, for instance, "the artistic and intellectual elite called them ugly little boxes, destroying the countryside, put up by greedy developers," Bruegmann said.

Today, those row houses are hailed as smart, even graceful urban design.

The beige cul-de-sacs of Highlands Ranch may never achieve that distinction.

But they're starting to get at least grudging respect.

"I watched Highlands Ranch grow from my uncle's front yard," one urban planner wrote on Cyburbia.org.

"It was evil, and we made fun of the mono-colored houses.... In college [I said] that I would never design anything like it. But as I watched my cousins and friends grow up there, I can't remember why it is such a bad place."

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