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.

According to Ray and Anderson, Traditionals and Moderns have been waging a culture war since the birth of the nation. Only in the past 30 years have Cultural Creatives, a growing slice of the pie (now 26 percent), emerged to bring peace to the world—and buy homes.

Which brings us back to Terramor, "a place designed to meet the different lifestyle desires of those people searching for tightly knit, socially progressive, non-auto-oriented neighborhoods with a strong environmental orientation."

So says Anne Marie Moiso, director of marketing for Rancho Mission Viejo LLC, Terramor's master planner and developer. "These are people who express their core values of altruism, idealism and concern for others through concern for the environment and cultural innovation. They appreciate all that is authentic within their homes, neighborhoods and communities—while sharing a special concern for key issues impacting the broader community. They are well educated, successful and extremely curious about life—they are the Cultural Creatives."

And you can practically hear the brass erupting in Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

Moiso is a fifth-generation member of the landowning family that ranched, farmed and then developed most of southern Orange County. When family patriarch Richard O'Neill Sr. began buying up ranchland in 1882, the land was a plein air heaven of rolling hills and grazing cattle and sheep.

By World War II, O'Neill's property holdings extended over 200,000 acres—from El Toro on the north to Oceanside on the south. Then in a move both traditional and modern, the U.S. government appropriated Camp Pendleton and El Toro Marine Base for the war effort.

By the 1960s, the family was ready to suburbanize segments of its remaining 52,000 acres. In 1964, they formed the Mission Viejo Company and began plans for their first crack at suburbia, the 10,000-acre planned community of Mission Viejo. In 1999, Ladera Ranch debuted.

And today is the grand opening of a "Visionary Village."

"This is a landmark for Southern California," Moiso says, "as Terramor takes its place as the largest green-oriented residential village of its type in the nation."

"Do you have any similar developments planned?" I ask her.

"With Terramor, we pretty much raised the bar," she says. "Other areas of Ladera Ranch will also have green development standards."

I ask Moiso if she's a Cultural Creative.

"I thought I was, but actually I'm a 'Winners With Heart.'"

A dominant subgroup of Moderns, Winners With Heart are goal driven and status oriented—that's the "Winners" part. They're also environmentally aware and yearn for psychological growth—that's the "Heart."

Moiso continues. "We've done annual psychographic profiling of Ladera Ranch residents as well as our interest list. We've identified four psychographic profiles that find Ladera Ranch to be their lifestyle solution—Cultural Creatives, Traditionals, Winners With Heart and Modern Cynics.

Modern Cynics, another subgroup of Moderns, are highly analytical, and want success and its trappings, but feel disenfranchised and cynical. At least that's what the marketing consultants say. They also say, "Terramor truly is destined to be a place like no other. It will be a welcoming village where the opportunity for self-expression is nurtured, solitude is sacred, interaction is fostered, and you can be as green as you want to be."

As long as you don't spell green with a political G. The Mission Viejo Company won't emphasize the global environmentalist side of Terramor. In a survey of potential buyers, the company found "only 28 percent feel strongly about preserving the earth." As a result, Terramor's marketing consultants downplayed the politically charged "Green" image and conjured the ambiguous slogan, "360-Degree Living."

Lynda Hernandez, an Orange County Green Party council member, calls 360-Degree Living mere marketing. Well, no, she doesn't. She calls it "bullshit."

"360-Degree Living means nothing," Hernandez says. "And I don't believe the low percentage of people, the 28 percent identified by the developer's marketing department. There is an extremely high percentage of the population who are concerned about the environment, especially if they are made aware of what is actually being threatened."

What is being threatened?

"Around Terramor, we are talking about some of the last open space in the county and the removal of critical wildlife corridors," Hernandez says. "In fact, the land adjacent to Ladera Ranch and Cleveland National Forest has been identified as one of the top 25 global hotspots—one of the most unique areas on the planet, since it is composed of endangered species and plant life specific to that region only."

What about Terramor's "non-auto-oriented neighborhoods"?

"Unless these residents plan to just stay in their private enclave and not venture out with the rest of us," Hernandez says, "they'll be forced to fight the same traffic jams created by this never-ending suburban sprawl—especially since they are living on the edge of it."

Hernandez says the only really green development would take place in the county's urban centers. "A much better solution would be to create attractive, sustainable communities in areas already developed—mixing homes with local businesses and positioning them close to mass transit stations to minimize auto use," she says.

And what about Terramor's "strong environmental orientation"?

"If that was the case," Hernandez says, "they wouldn't buy or support this type of destructive development in the first place. Once this environment is gone, it's gone forever. Let's save some of it for our grandchildren."

Talking to Hernandez, I get the feeling that Terramor's marketing is Greenwashing, a word that now has its own place in the Oxford English Dictionary: "Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image." In practice it means advertising with montages of lush green rain forests, condors in flight and pristine streams sparkling in daylight—all brought to you by major polluters.

In Terramor's case it means that the marketer's "Visionary Village" may exist simply to give developers leverage as they expand suburban sprawl to San Onofre and points beyond. After all, favorable public opinion generated by a culturally creative lowercase green development like Terramor could justify the latest toll-road extension through San Onofre State Park or the newest development of 14,000 homes proposed for Ortega Canyon. In front of a county or city planning commission, 360-Degree Living might serve as the developer's crowbar for massive anti-green sprawl.

I tell Hernandez the brochure at the iGallery says 360-Degree Living "approaches home as a nest responding to individual needs for privacy, individuality, and efficiency."

"I think the whole thing sounds really phony," she replies.

I walk to the front of the iGallery and ask the receptionist how many degrees of living I'm experiencing right now, here at the iGallery—360? Perhaps 240? If I live in Long Beach, am I likely to experience more degrees than if I live in Yorba Linda?

The receptionist smiles and gives me the once-over twice. It wouldn't surprise me if she's sizing me up as a Cultural Creative. She certainly works for a place that has the credentials. Housing Zone, an online magazine for the real estate community, says, "Nobody is better at creating and executing detailed marketing programs directed to distinct like-minded groups than Rancho Mission Viejo Company."

Pinpointing like-minded groups is standard operating procedure for marketing people. In the past, straight-up demographics were the rule—age, income, education, occupation and geographic location determined the sales pitch. But by the late 1970s—with the rise of personal computers—marketing departments found they could increase sales by tossing personal values, attitudes, behaviors and tastes into the mix. As with all things in marketing, they came up with a cool new name for this strategy: psychographics.

An advertisement built on psychographic data doesn't describe the product so much as it describes the personality and character of the prospective consumer—a campaign that almost ignores the product so that it can flatter you for having the good taste to want it. In Terramor's world, you're the kind of amazing person who "dreamed" of a "home in harmony with nature" in a "village in touch with its soul." And because you dreamed it, the Mission Viejo Company can have only one response: "we will build it."Personal cultural values are identified with specific psychographic segments of the population. You may be "Bohemian Mix" or "Pools & Patios," or "Shotguns & Pickups" or "Rural Industrial" or "Winner's Circle." You Shop at Banana Republic, watch Wall Street Week, live a granola-and-grits lifestyle. You're urbane or rustic; hunt with a gun or buy jazz.

I wonder how this all fits into the Cultural Creative/Modern/Traditional grid. So I call Brooke Warrick, president of American LIVES, a value- and lifestyle-based market research firm. Warrick founded American LIVES 17 years ago with Paul Ray—the man who coined "Cultural Creative." Warrick also did the market research for Terramor and helped with its development and marketing plan.

"Ladera Ranch was an evolution," Warrick says. "There were five phases and we marched our way through each, pushing the envelope. We were going after different kinds of people at each phase. We decided in the last phase, Terramor, that there was one part of the market that wasn't being served: a segment that wanted some sort of green development phenomena. We knew what their values were. We knew what was important to them.

"We said to ourselves, 'Why don't we design a part of the community that appeals to Cultural Creatives?' If we did the Green Thing—internally we called it 'the Green Thing'—if we did the Green Thing, couldn't we capture another part of the market?"

I ask him what other markets he targeted. Warrick tells me about Covenant Hill, another Ladera Ranch development. "I talked to a builder about that development the other day. I said to him, "Remember everything we said about the target for Terramor? Forget about that. The target for Covenant Hills is exactly the opposite. It's for Moderns and status-oriented people."

And how do you market homes to Moderns?

"They want a lot of baubles and bangles on the front of their homes," he says. "We came up with the term 'statement-oriented architecture' to describe the embellishments for Moderns."

What about Traditionals?

"There are parts of the development [at Ladera Ranch] that went after Traditionals, too," he says. "For Traditionals, the fewer things on the home the better."

As far as marketing to the 28 percent who think the earth is worth preserving, Warrick says, "We want all that 28 percent."

Statement-oriented architecture? The Green Thing? My head is spinning. I hear the squeal of feedback, statistical white noise emanating from the movement of marketing information between consumers and researchers and market and back again. It sounds like this: poll-data-marketing-poll-data-marketing-poll-data-marketing. And this: You want/I want/ You want/I want/You want.

How does that create culture?

Outside the marketing bubble of like-minded groups—the Moderns, Winners With Heart and Traditionals—shouldn't there be a segment called "Leadership Seekers"—a huge untapped portion of the population looking for someone with fresh ideas that haven't been diluted by polling data?

The more I learn about Terramor's pitch to Cultural Creatives, the less "authentic," "nurturing" and "altruistic" it feels. I tip my imaginary hat to the iGallery receptionist, get in my car and cruise through the tract. Here, on grand opening day, the streets are lined with green and white 360-degree balloons. Surrounded by paradoxically bulldozed hillsides, prospective Cultural Creative buyers in their antithetical SUVs cruise down O'Neill Drive past Gaia Lane, Aura Lane, Thoreau and Ethereal Streets.

It's possible to attack the Mission Viejo Company as cynical—as inauthentically green. And you'd have so much evidence, including the fact that the developer might have chosen to throw green upgrades (photovoltaic cells, solar panels, wastewater wash/rinse and the like) into each and every home as standard, and could have simply insisted, because it was the right thing to do, that this is how everybody should live on a planet whose resources are tumbling around on the sides of freeways, festering in landfills, falling from the sky like hard rain, running through our fingers. Or you could praise the company, and say, well, hell: capitalism has something for everybody with money, even people the capitalists wouldn't really like very much hanging around their swimming pools.

"Great homes, wrong place," I think and flip Hicks back to life on the CD.

"If anybody here is in marketing or advertising," Hicks yells though my speakers, "kill yourself. No joke here. Really. Seriously. There is no rationalization for what you do. Kill yourself now.

"You know what bugs me?" he continues. "Everyone here who is in marketing is thinking the same thing: 'Oh, cool! Bill's going for the anti-marketing dollar. That's a huge market!'

"Quit it! Oh, quit it!" Hicks cries. "Don't turn everything into a dollar sign!"

The marketers in Hicks' head speak again. "'Oooooo—the plea for sanity dollar. Huge. Huge market. Look at our research.'"

Looking at the research and the results, it appears that the Cultural Creative market wants creativity as long as it's institutionalized and standardized in museums and universities. It wants self-expression as long as it doesn't violate the Talmudic CC&Rs of the homeowners association. It wants altruism and idealism as long as they don't get negative numbers. It wants polls instead of considerations, population trends instead of truth.

Terramor is to the social-justice, environmental-protection and self-actualization movements of the 1960s and '70s what Vanilla Ice is to rap, what Cat in the Hat the movie is to Cat in the Hat the book, what The O.C. is to Orange County.

Isolated in the hills of Ladera Ranch, Terramor is a marketing analyst's answer to a global community—a preprogrammed Cultural Creative world with hiking trails and solar panels. But the real creators of culture won't be living here. They'll be directing the future from between the slices on the Anderson/Ray pie chart.

I head north on the 405. Through a demographer's eyes, I'm passing miles and miles of flat suburban piescapes populated by marketing segments.

Thirty minutes later, I'm surveying 19th Street in Costa Mesa's Westside—the breeding ground for Rock Harbor Church, Diedrich Roasters, Wahoo's and Chronic Industries. Throwing back a beer at Taco Mesa, I take in the wild open environment of humanity living outside the marketing bubble—approximately 180 degrees from 360-Degree Living.

Warrick might ask, "What does the pie chart look like here? What are the psychographics? What's the marketing campaign?"

Here's the breakdown:

They are Mexican Altruists, Guatemalan Idealists, Indian Subcontinent Optimists, Gay Thai Episcopalians, Bug-eyed Hopped-up Propellerhead Poets, Catholic Narcotraficantes—all subgroups of what Nathan Callahan calls Society's Mavericks, expressing their core values of bebop, hip-hop, trance, ranchera, No Wave, narcocorridos, rockabilly-acid-jazz-funk and biting the hand that feeds them. The Real Shit—the Unknown Rebels, creating a culture without an adjoining dollar sign, monkey-wrenching the engine of homogenization, stopping the line of Red Army tanks, bending yardsticks into burning men, engaging in life outside the marketing survey.

Hear Nathan Callahan on

Weekly Signals on KUCI-FM 89.9. Tues., 8-9 a.m. Or visit nathancallahan.com.
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