Buying Woodstock

Is Ladera Ranch the green revolution or the same development crap in a new package?

Illustration by Smell of SteveI drive east on Oso Parkway through Ladera Ranch, South Orange County's latest megadevelopment. Bill Hicks—the man known as the Prince of Darkness—spins in my CD player. The brilliantly bitter stand-up comedian, ad buster and despiser of charlatans is ranting about the monoclimate of Southern California.

"Hot and sunny every day," he says. "Isn't it great? What are you, a fucking lizard?"

Ahead, the village of Terramor appears on the lizard-friendly hillsides. Today, Nov. 15, at its grand opening, Terramor sprawls like any another suburban tract: the walls stuccoed; the roofs pitched; priced from the mid-$200,000s to $800,000; perfectly prosaic.

But if you believe the marketing for these homes, Terramor is the heaven-blessed and world-wise future: "A Visionary Village," the salespeople say, "for the Cultural Creative."

Hicks, who died of cancer in 1997 at the age of 32, mutters "Bullshit" as if to counsel me from the grave.

If not for Paul H. Ray, a social scientist and management consultant known for his work in market research, Terramor might be a different kind of village. He is in some ways the real architect here.

In the mid-1990s, after analyzing 13 years of surveys from 500 focus groups, he uncovered "a new revolutionary movement emerging in America." Below the surface of the pop mainstream there was an untapped, growing community emerging from the social-justice, environmental-protection and self-actualization movements of the 1960s and early '70s. In 2000, Ray teamed with his wife, Sherry Anderson, to publish a guide to the new social phenomenon: The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.

"Imagine," the foreword begins, "a country the size of France suddenly sprouting in the middle of the United States." They're referring to the size of the domestic Cultural Creative population. Buzzwords follow. Authenticity, engaged action, nurturing, whole-process learning, altruism and spirituality are sprinkled like fairy dust through chapters titled "Turning Green," "Waking Up" and "Caterpillar, Chrysalis, Butterfly."

"The Cultural Creatives are a coherent subculture," Ray and Anderson proclaim, "except for one essential thing: they are missing self-awareness as a whole."

Hence the book, according to which Cultural Creatives will soon reach a kind of critical mass, a tipping point when they suddenly become aware of their own collective power. Then they'll transform how everyone else lives and, in turn, how the world's fundamental problems are solved. Cultural Creatives will, as the moniker implies, create a new culture.

I wonder. Are Ray's Cultural Creatives the branding of crystallized hocus-pocus? The New Age American Gothic? Pop sociology?

Like an after-the-fact canon for the middle-aged Woodstock Nation, The Cultural Creatives is heavy on pie-eyed belief and light on competition, politics and organizing—the building blocks necessary for the creation of a new culture.

I turn off Hicks and walk into the iGallery, which is what they call Terramor's visionary village real estate office. It's a nurturing, soft, green world. Across flat-screen computer monitors, happy families stroll through idealized suburban landscapes and soft-focus greenbelts. Spotlighted murals on the wall practically coo with the language of a new commercial age:

Terramor.

Because you dreamed it, we will build it.

A home in harmony with nature.

A village in touch with its soul.

And a demographic with huge market potential.

Pragmatically speaking, Cultural Creatives represent a Gaiatic-size upper-income segment of the population. When Ray and Anderson first gleaned the impact of Cultural Creatives from their data, they must have felt they had discovered empirical proof of the dawning of marketing's Age of Aquarius.

"The Cultural Creatives today have, in just the U.S., a disposable income after taxes of about $1.1 trillion," Ray said in a recent CNN interview.

And what better way for a Cultural Creative to spend cash than on a culturally creative home. In Terramor, we have a place where suburbia meets the New Age.

Terramor's "socially responsible" homes come with solar panels and photovoltaic roof tiles that generate electricity and send surplus back to the utility company when usage is low. Terramor's paints and carpeting are reportedly less toxic than most others. Community landscaping is largely drought tolerant and uses green-waste mulch—grass and plant clippings, fallen leaves. Runoff areas are designed to cleanse water naturally before it gets flushed to the ocean. Terramor is also foot friendly, with a network of arroyos, courtyards and greens connecting to a 10-mile trail that accesses over 1,800 acres of open space bordering Ladera Ranch.

You may ask yourself, is this my beautiful home? Am I a Cultural Creative? First, consider the alternatives.

In their book, Ray and Anderson divide the American cultural pie into three slices. The biggest slice, 49.5 percent, belongs to the culturally dominant Moderns. "They are the people who accept the commercialized urban-industrial world as the obvious right way to live," say the authors.

Moderns bliss out on material gain, success and technology. They're NASCAR dads and soccer moms enrolled in the mainstream of corporate America: IBM, NBA, CBS, NFL, USA Today, GM, Citibank and the Wall Street Journal. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger—consumer-driven, action-hero Hummer driver.

Traditionals are the smallest slice of the Anderson/Ray pie at 24.5 percent. They idealize the past, dreaming of simpler Norman Rockwell picket-fence times. Socially and religiously conservative, Traditionals live everywhere on the income/ethnocultural map. They are heartlanders, patriarchal Northern unionists, Southern segregationists, Bible Belt fundamentalists, and ethnic Catholics. Think Pat Robertson—small-town, tuna-casserole, made-in-Detroit mid-size sedan driver.

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