Home Sweet Clone

Twenty-year-old Highlands Ranch has grown into a mega-planned community of mythic proportions.

"True open space is clustering housing and retail and business so you can maintain separation between communities...and having trails and parks integrated into the community," says Barnes-Gelt. "Open space isn't about a culvert in somebody's backyard or a drainage ditch. That's just a waste of land."

A waste for some, perhaps, but not wasted by developers. Open-space views are valuable, and buyers who purchase certain homes are also buying "view rights." One covenant-cop responsibility is to watch for residential landscaping and renovations that might obscure a neighbor's rightfully purchased scenery.

Santangelo turns onto another street -- Timberwood? Tanglewood? Teakwood? -- and more postage-stamp lawns stretch up and over the hill.

Fish out of water: This red pirhana by artist Troy Pillow is one of five backyard sculptures that sparked a neighbor's complaint against homeowner Vikki Stevens.
Anthony Camera
Fish out of water: This red pirhana by artist Troy Pillow is one of five backyard sculptures that sparked a neighbor's complaint against homeowner Vikki Stevens.
Not God forsaken: Cherry Hills Community Church pastor David Meserve warns that prayer is needed to balance homogeneity.
Anthony Camera
Not God forsaken: Cherry Hills Community Church pastor David Meserve warns that prayer is needed to balance homogeneity.

Even though she patrols these streets every day, does Santangelo ever have a difficult time, you know, finding her way around?

"Get lost?" she asks. "On a regular basis. Constantly!"


Foxfire is sixteen years old, attends Thunderridge High School and has a secret. Some of her friends know her secret, but she doesn't want her mom to find out. Her dad already knows, but he's an atheist, "so he doesn't really care." But her mom, well...her mom is a "hardcore Christian" who sometimes works in their church. So it would be ugly if her mom ever found out Foxfire is a practicing wiccan. Foxfire isn't worried about her dad telling her mom, though. Since the divorce, her parents "never talk to each other."

"[Christianity] wasn't soothing to me," she says. "I thought [wicca] was more open and not as judgmental."

There are three other girls in her coven, she says. Their wiccan names are Foxfire, Blue Spiral, Moon Dancer and Star. They all attend Thunderridge. They were twelve or thirteen when they first started getting interested in witchcraft.

One might think that with the current pop-culture trendiness of adolescent pagans (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Harry Potter), being a sixteen-year-old wiccan in suburban Denver would be a blast -- accessorizing at Park Meadows, casting spells in the food court. But there is a narrow definition of what is cool at her school, and Foxfire has unsuccessfully tried to keep her interest in witchcraft private.

"People think you worship Satan. We don't even believe in Satan," she says. "Once I made the mistake of telling somebody at school who, I guess, is a Mormon? And she keeps trying to get me to go to church and telling me that what I am doing is wrong."

And a current Buffy plot thread in which a witch came out as a lesbian hasn't helped her image, either.

"Everybody thinks all homosexual people [practice wicca]," she laughs. "People ask me if I'm a lesbian. I'm like, 'No!'"

Highlands Ranch advocates insist their community is perfect for kids. But kids do not buy houses. It's probably more accurate to say the Disneyfied aesthetics and restrictive nature of Highlands Ranch appeals to adults with kids rather than kids themselves.

William Porter, a Cherry Creek psychologist and co-author of Bully-Proofing Your School, says one of the toughest challenges for teens in places like Highlands Ranch is finding an identity in a community where homogeneity reigns.

"There's a lot of pressure to live up to the standards of their parents and the mores and values of the community," Porter says. "That's why you see a higher rate of suicide, you see a higher rate of eating disorders in those communities, and a very high use of recreational drugs: It's really self-medicating to take the edge off of living up to this expectation."

One common complaint by teens in planned communities is that there's nothing to do. Parents are often bewildered by such complaints, since associations like the HRCA offer an array of activities. But the same sensibilities that mandate blending earth tones and ban treehouses also regulate the community's playtime, leaving little room for the improvised and unexpected spaces where kids make their own fun.

Take going to a pool, for example.

According to the conduct rules of Highlands Ranch, the following are prohibited at HR pools: food, drink, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages, unacceptable loitering, dress-code violations as defined by specific areas, standing or sitting on the shoulders of another guest, squirt guns, rafts, kickboards (for children), standing on or swimming under float toys, throwing objects over a large length of space, catching objects off the side of the pool and "actions or activities that annoy, inconvenience, or endanger the well being of persons." Many pools also have something called "adult swim," where for ten minutes of each hour, all kids are ordered out of the pool so that adults can swim laps.

To escape the playtime master planning of the HRCA, some kids burrow under Highlands Ranch instead. Teens have been repeatedly found exploring the Highlands Ranch sewer system. Douglas County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sergeant Tim Moore says there's evidence of "graffiti, alcohol, drug use and sexual activity" in the HR sewers. Moore notes that the tunnels are one of the few places in Highlands Ranch where a teen can get away from the watchful eyes of a hundred residential windows.

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