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Thread: Highlands Ranch at 25: smart or sprawl?

  1. #1

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    Highlands Ranch at 25: smart or sprawl?

    Today's Denver Post (http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_3477355) has a feature piece on the Highlands Ranch master planned development south of Denver upon the 25th anniversary if its opening. Highlands is reaching buildout, with a current population of 86,000.

    Highlands has been cited as both a contributor to sprawl and the intelligent response to the issue, as the article notes.

  2. #2

    more complex than meets the eye

    Highlands Ranch in my view has been used as an easy poster child for sprawl. When National Geographic did a story and put it on its cover page in 1996 they approached it with very shallow journalism, choosing only to identify a few easy targets. Many planners and journalists continue to do the same shallow analysis--a problem in my view with many in the "smart growth" movement. Yes, HIghlands Ranch may be 3 shades of beige and square miles of monoculture single family homes on cul de sacs, it also is planned and developing as a truly "full service" community in which you can live, work, shop, worship, and play. It has public transit--and has since day one, it preserves a very defined southern urban boundary to the Denver metropolitan region while preserving thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, it uses primarily renewaable water resources, has very effecient government services, miles upon miles of walking and hiking trails, bicycle lanes, open space corridors in the drainages. Essentially everything we thought was completely cool and proper for the 1970s. INcluding the automobile at the center of things with arterials the size of airport runways. But Highlands Ranch has evolved and many of the PUD amendments in the past decade have increased the mix of uses, established form based codes for the town center, and expanded the range of housing types, and established a management plan for the open space and wildlife preserve. So, it is it smart or dumb? A bit of both I say with more elements leaning to smart than to dumb sprawl.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The Dutchman
    Highlands Ranch in my view has been used as an easy poster child for sprawl. When National Geographic did a story and put it on its cover page in 1996 they approached it with very shallow journalism, choosing only to identify a few easy targets. Many planners and journalists continue to do the same shallow analysis--a problem in my view with many in the "smart growth" movement. Yes, HIghlands Ranch may be 3 shades of beige and square miles of monoculture single family homes on cul de sacs, it also is planned and developing as a truly "full service" community in which you can live, work, shop, worship, and play. It has public transit--and has since day one, it preserves a very defined southern urban boundary to the Denver metropolitan region while preserving thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, it uses primarily renewaable water resources, has very effecient government services, miles upon miles of walking and hiking trails, bicycle lanes, open space corridors in the drainages. Essentially everything we thought was completely cool and proper for the 1970s. INcluding the automobile at the center of things with arterials the size of airport runways. But Highlands Ranch has evolved and many of the PUD amendments in the past decade have increased the mix of uses, established form based codes for the town center, and expanded the range of housing types, and established a management plan for the open space and wildlife preserve. So, it is it smart or dumb? A bit of both I say with more elements leaning to smart than to dumb sprawl.
    I couldn't help but notice during a roadtrip in 2001 that there was a heavy wash of outer-suburban sprawl-style development between I-25 and the hills to the west along much of the highway from Colorado Springs to the green(brown?)space at the south end of the Highlands Ranch area in metro Denver. It is something that I've seen in many other places, including elsewhere in the Denver area (ie, around Boulder) where there is a compact, somewhat 'utopian' developed urban area, an open space/parkland ring around that urban core and then a total wash of typical unattractive late 20th century-style sprawl development stretching well into the distance beyond. For that reason, I look more and more toward using parkland to define such limits of the 'urban edge' as being nothing more than an exercise in futility.

    No, I didn't have an opportunity to actually poke around in the Highlands Ranch area, as I was with someone else and we had already made other plans for that trip.

    Mike

  4. #4
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ok.....

    Highlands Ranch is an example of Suburban Sprawl.

    1. Yes there is a growing office/commercial corridor along I-25 at Lincoln. Most of the Commercial along C-470 is retail/service oriented. Don't think that a lot of folks work in the Highlands Ranch area, why do you think T-Rex is being built, along with light rail expansion (not that the SUV driving SOCALS will use it )

    2. Last I heard, Highlands Ranch Water Districts were using mostly ground water with a supplement of South Platte water (purchased from Denver at high rates?). The South Platte Dam in the mountains has failed several times to materialize and as such, there was still a huge water problem forming when I left. I know, its nothing that can't be solved with enough money

    3. The transportation network is classic local street through arterials.

    4. The parks and open space is where they SHINE!! A+ here, even though it leads to sprawlville, at least you can ride, run, walk almost anywhere you want, including links north all the way to Denver and the foothills!! The recreational facilities are also top notch in my opinion. The buffer (aka sprawl) between non compatible uses is impressive to say the least, something the SOCALS don't even have, maybe that's why they all moved to this part of Denver....hmm.....

    I understand why people move there, its a better type of suburban living that keeps all the riff raff out by economic segregation. Now, show me where the mixed uses are and for that matter mixed density and I'll start thinking about the previous "Smart Growth" comments....

    Skilled Adoxographer

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Quote Originally posted by The One
    Highlands Ranch is an example of Suburban Sprawl.
    4. The parks and open space is where they SHINE!! A+ here, even though it leads to sprawlville, at least you can ride, run, walk almost anywhere you want, including links north all the way to Denver and the foothills!! The recreational facilities are also top notch in my opinion. The buffer (aka sprawl) between non compatible uses is impressive to say the least, something the SOCALS don't even have, maybe that's why they all moved to this part of Denver....hmm.....
    Interesting fact sheet: http://www.highlandsranch.org/03_p&o...SFactSheet.pdf
    Oddball
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    From a planning perspective, they could have done better, but the spirit was there. I grew up just north of the boundary to Highlands Ranch and worked for the family business in many of it neighborhoods and commerical centers, what I have found is that it doesn't matter where you are in Highlands Ranch, it all looks the same. (Except for the sh&$box McManisions, but that's really the town of Lone Tree now isn't it? )

    From a sociological standpoint, Highlands Ranch represents the nexus of all that is Soulless and Evil in the world. (well, maybe not the world, but close). This subdivision breeds SUV Driving, Neighborhood Centric, Republican Voting, isolated, uppity, cookie cutter robots the likes of which one has never seen. I feel this area is a void in an otherwise wonderful metro area, and I am glad that I live removed from this area.

    If I ever see another Beautiful Highlands Ranch frame surrounding a green and white Colorado license plate, God help those who drive that very SUV...

    Now, if only I can get my folks to move out of a smaller, more toffeenosed version Highlands Ranch, Castle Pines...

    To each their own, Z Man...
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    "From a sociological standpoint, Highlands Ranch represents the nexus of all that is Soulless and Evil in the world. (well, maybe not the world, but close). This subdivision breeds SUV Driving, Neighborhood Centric, Republican Voting, isolated, uppity, cookie cutter robots the likes of which one has never seen. I feel this area is a void in an otherwise wonderful metro area, and I am glad that I live removed from this area."

    As opposed to the SUV driving, neighborhood centric, Republican voting, isolated, uppity residents of Denver's older Country Club and 7th/6th Ave Parkways neighborhood?

    Geez, man, one can live in the middle of a historic neighborhood and be all that you describe, or out in the 'burbs and be the antithesis of what you described.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner
    "From a sociological standpoint, Highlands Ranch represents the nexus of all that is Soulless and Evil in the world. (well, maybe not the world, but close). This subdivision breeds SUV Driving, Neighborhood Centric, Republican Voting, isolated, uppity, cookie cutter robots the likes of which one has never seen. I feel this area is a void in an otherwise wonderful metro area, and I am glad that I live removed from this area."

    As opposed to the SUV driving, neighborhood centric, Republican voting, isolated, uppity residents of Denver's older Country Club and 7th/6th Ave Parkways neighborhood?

    Geez, man, one can live in the middle of a historic neighborhood and be all that you describe, or out in the 'burbs and be the antithesis of what you described.
    At least the houses look better.
    Old money vs. New Money. Think about it.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner
    "From a sociological standpoint, Highlands Ranch represents the nexus of all that is Soulless and Evil in the world. (well, maybe not the world, but close). This subdivision breeds SUV Driving, Neighborhood Centric, Republican Voting, isolated, uppity, cookie cutter robots the likes of which one has never seen. I feel this area is a void in an otherwise wonderful metro area, and I am glad that I live removed from this area."

    As opposed to the SUV driving, neighborhood centric, Republican voting, isolated, uppity residents of Denver's older Country Club and 7th/6th Ave Parkways neighborhood?

    Geez, man, one can live in the middle of a historic neighborhood and be all that you describe, or out in the 'burbs and be the antithesis of what you described.

    Or, the SUV-driving, Save Mono Lake Bumper Sticker-sporting, sushi imbibing, oh so politically correct residents of the Bay Area's leafy lefty bohemian pockets???



    That would be a great FAC thread: "String together as many class-warfare-based stereotypes in one sentence as possible.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner
    As opposed to the SUV driving, neighborhood centric, Republican voting, isolated, uppity residents of Denver's older Country Club and 7th/6th Ave Parkways neighborhood?

    Geez, man, one can live in the middle of a historic neighborhood and be all that you describe, or out in the 'burbs and be the antithesis of what you described.
    I agree with my arch-enemy here! p.s. you left our mindless cookie-cutter robots!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  11. #11
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Later, after some thought: I see your point. There is something to be said for the Latte Drinking, quiesh-eating, artsy, don't-you-dare-fartsy, Democrat voting, uppity, mind-less cookie cutter robot residents of other portions of the Mile High City too (or the People's Republic of Boulder or whatever ignorant Neo-Con BS Term Du Jour of it is...)

    Alas, this is getting off track, and I apologize for having derailed the discussion about Highlands Ranch. As you can see, I never really liked the place, but I also have not been around it in a while. I spoke of having a Planner's Mindset now, but I have yet to apply it whilst I am down there. Plus, I really wanted to read the article, but I fear I have to dig through the recycle bin (you damn Liberal Z) to find it. I knew there was a reason I wanted to keep the Denver Post longer this weekend!
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally posted by zmanPLAN
    [B]

    Alas, this is getting off track, and I apologize for having derailed the discussion about Highlands Ranch. As you can see, I never really liked the place, but I also have not been around it in a while. !
    's all right. I always hold in my mind Highlands Ranch and its ilk as one of the major reasons I could never live in Denver. God, the Denver suburbs are boring-worse than Sprawlifornia in some ways (although the Inland Empire tries really hard)

  13. #13

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    Addendum

    When I started the thread, I was running out of time and didn't get to my own observations. Like ZMAN did, I currently live near HL and have a had numerous experiences and excursions in and around the place for the last 10 years. I've had friends who've lived there, too.

    Overall, I have to say it's really a soulless place despite all of the resources poured into it to make it a desirable community. There's a expressed "smugness" among the residents which manifests itself as a "Hey, I'm here and you're not" attitude.

    Still, there's a few bright spots-the "Town Center" development, west of Broadway and off Highlands Ranch Parkway [one of those 6-lane swath of concrete with setbacks more appropriate for the Southern Pacific Railroad] now features a respectable outlet of Denver's legendary Tattered Cover Bookstore. The western and eastern edges of HR will be served by light rail over the coming years, thanks to the FasTracks project.

    With time and with the right mix of folks, the place might just become habitable.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Miles Ignatius
    Overall, I have to say it's really a soulless place despite all of the resources poured into it to make it a desirable community. There's a expressed "smugness" among the residents which manifests itself as a "Hey, I'm here and you're not" attitude.
    This is sort of what I was trying to portray yesterday, only Miles' narrative was a little more mature. Spot on, Friend!

    Still, there's a few bright spots-the "Town Center" development, west of Broadway and off Highlands Ranch Parkway [one of those 6-lane swath of concrete with setbacks more appropriate for the Southern Pacific Railroad] now features a respectable outlet of Denver's legendary Tattered Cover Bookstore. The western and eastern edges of HR will be served by light rail over the coming years, thanks to the FasTracks project.
    Ahh, but the 'Town Center' development is far detached from the eastern edge of HR say around 470 and Quebec Street. Also, along with this smugness comes a crop of people who do not get to experience the rest of a great city. The whole experience of the Tattered Cover was to make a trip of it and go to Cherry Creek to shop, it got you out of your own neighborhood/side of town etc. I guess a plus side is that people won't drive their Tahoes and Explorers very far now.

    With time and with the right mix of folks, the place might just become habitable.
    I see what you're saying, but it did have 25 years to do this...

    And thus concludes your morning dose of Cynicism and Elitism, please enjoy the rest of your day
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  15. #15
    Cyburbian DCBuff's avatar
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    I watched Highlands Ranch grow from my uncle’s front yard. Other family members moved into the first phases. I remember the National Geographic Article and I would say that it was one of the reasons that I became a planner. It was evil and we made fun of the mono-colored houses and maintain in college 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. The sense of community there is stronger than anywhere I have been, including any new urbanism development. Sure a number of the people are new money and sure it was a better place before development came. But now as the trees have grown up a little and the five street names become less confusing the parks and recreation program really make it a nice place. Also the Mall and most of the big boxes are in Alone Tree, granted it is across the street. It not a very walkable community, and things are spared out, but that what the market wants. At least it is better than other Douglas County subdivisions.
    "A man is what he does in his dreams." ~Camilla Sacci

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    So if this is so bad / evil / crappy, why do the houses resell? "The market" must find these places desireable or it would have died long ago. The re-inventions of the original concept such as form based codes are an attempt to keep them desireable becasue of the market, not in spite of it. Just an observation.

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    So if this is so bad / evil / crappy, why do the houses resell? "The market" must find these places desireable or it would have died long ago. The re-inventions of the original concept such as form based codes are an attempt to keep them desireable becasue of the market, not in spite of it. Just an observation.
    Ah, but idealistic, urbanist planners want reality to be different than it is. Look at the cul-de-sac debate. I hate cul-de-sac neighborhoods, but these lots always sell for a premium. Whereas the sacred grid can easily break down to the point, as in Sacramento and Berkeley, CA (cities which experience a lot of regional traffic flows, some of which were flowing down side streets), that cities install extensive systems of diverters and artifical cul-de-sacs. Of course, that means that the relatively few remaining through-streets become traffic clogged (just like in the suburbs!). Unlike the suburbs, though, there are houses and people living on Ashby Avenue and J Street.

  18. #18
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    ? from a SoCal girl

    I stumbled across this site and am very interested in the opinions here.Due to a work transfer I am moving to Co. in April and Highlands Ranch is one of the communities I was seriously looking into until reading the posts here.
    I am trying to get Away from the SUV driving-Uppity-Neighborhood centric-NIMBYs and the vanilla landscape they so crave.
    What areas should I look to for Down-to-Earth people-Non Vanilla colored HOAs-Neighbor friendly communities that have character(non-robot)?
    I know your all thinking-Oh God not another SoCal transplant with my nose up in there air and an SUV in the driveway...I am not even close and frankly loathe the SUV mentality(and all that goes with it) that seems rampant here and sounds like it is growing there.
    And what is the general consensus on Parker?

    I appreciate any and all help.
    Thanks,
    Yvonne
    Last edited by YTM; 01 Mar 2006 at 6:17 PM.

  19. #19

    finding down to earth neighbors

    Yvonne, you may want to consider Lone Tree near the new light rail station at LIncoln Ave.--station opens this December. In my opinion Parker is worse than Highlands Ranch as far as amenities and access to transit. And I don't believe you will find the down to earth neighbors you are looking for. In fact, stay out of Douglas County altogether if that is important to you. Consider the City of Littleton, City of ENglewood, or most any place in the City of Denver.

    And I do welcome refugees from California!


    Quote Originally posted by YTM
    What areas should I look to for Down-to-Earth people-Non Vanilla colored HOAs-Neighbor friendly communities that have character(non-robot)?

    And what is the general consensus on Parker?

    I appreciate any and all help.
    Thanks,
    Yvonne

  20. #20
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    The sense of community there is stronger than anywhere I have been, including any new urbanism development.

    And, in the final analysis, isn't that really the most important thing?
    Allow me to offer that sometimes we enlightened planners can be quite detached from the real world of working families in suburbia, who are frankly apathetic as to whether their neighborhood has a quaint town center because most of the time and energy is spent working and raising children, which is where they will find their community that new urbanists (myself, included) strive to create.

  21. #21

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    Remembering how it all looked before the houses sprouted gives me pause, especially if I am passing along the south edge of Denver at night when all that used to be dark is illuminated. BUT having now lived in suburbia for a while, I am even more wary than ever of drawing conclusions about social reality from a place's physcial appearance. That doesn't mean there aren't soulless suburbs - there are. But there are also lovely loooking small towns where the principal hobby is saying bad things about your neighbors.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian geobandito's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by YTM
    What areas should I look to for Down-to-Earth people-Non Vanilla colored HOAs-Neighbor friendly communities that have character(non-robot)?
    Are you considering living in Denver at all? There are a lot of great neighborhoods.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally posted by geobandito
    Are you considering living in Denver at all? There are a lot of great neighborhoods.
    Well I have definitely broadened my search again.

    My realtor suggested Littleton/Englewood and a partner of hers sugeested Boulder( but for me that is too far out of town to commute daily).
    I really want an area where the houses don't look like xeroxed copies(Stepfordville I call it) of each other and the house does not take up the entire property(house sq ft 2500/lot sq ft 2800, etc.)
    I hope I did not offend any planners here in regards to my Vanilla-HOA-Uppity-neighborhoods. That just seems to be the climate here in such communities.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian geobandito's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by YTM
    Well I have definitely broadened my search again.

    My realtor suggested Littleton/Englewood and a partner of hers sugeested Boulder( but for me that is too far out of town to commute daily).
    I really want an area where the houses don't look like xeroxed copies(Stepfordville I call it) of each other and the house does not take up the entire property(house sq ft 2500/lot sq ft 2800, etc.)
    I hope I did not offend any planners here in regards to my Vanilla-HOA-Uppity-neighborhoods. That just seems to be the climate here in such communities.
    If you don't want xerox, you should definitely forget Highlands Ranch and probably Parker too. Boulder's very expensive. Englewood isn't bad, and it's on the existing light rail line. Are you working downtown? I would still suggest you look within the city of Denver. There are many neighborhoods with a lot of character, decent-sized yards, walking-distance retail and restaurants, great bike paths, and safe too. For what you'd be paying in Highlands Ranch or Boulder, you get a very nice house with character in a great neighborhood in the city.

  25. #25

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    Agree with geobandito. My sister lived in Denver, so I have some experience exploring and talking with her.

    Did you mention children? If none, then Denver is definitely one of those metros with far more character in the center city than most of its suburbs.

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