Friday, November 30, 2012

Lost in Cary, an American suburb

I was amused recently by an article about the state's über-suburb, Cary “Lost in Cary? Officials hope to show the way.”  It seems people get lost there a lot.

If you’re not familiar with Cary, it’s a municipality just west of Raleigh. With 135,000 people, it’s now the state’s seventh largest municipality, bigger than the historic port city of Wilmington and furniture-famous High Point. But because Cary has grown so dramatically during the past few decades America's age of suburban-style growth it doesn’t really have what most of us would think of as a downtown.

Bing Maps view of Cary Town Hall in “downtown” Cary
 “We used to hear a lot of people say that they didn’t know Cary had a downtown, they didn’t know where it was, particularly from people who said they didn’t live in Cary,” the News & Observer article quotes Cary  Planning Manager Philip Smith as saying.

The article also says the town has set aside tens of millions of dollars to make its downtown a destination again, not just to west Cary but to the entire region. “The plan is to seed the old town heart with arts and cultural venues, a new reason to make a half-hour trip across Cary,” the article says.

It’s a dilemma for more places than just Cary. Cornelius and Huntersville, two robust Charlotte suburbs in northern Mecklenburg County that began their lives as hamlets along a railroad line and sprouted vast subdivisions and strip shopping centers, have each been trying to build something like a downtown for a couple of decades now.  The Charlotte suburb of Harrisburg, perched just over the Cabarrus County line from UNC Charlotte, took a stab at building a downtown-type center, too. Heres what the website I run,, reported earlier this year about Harrisburg's town center: “Harrisburg N.C.: In search of a town center.”

Can Cary figure out how to make different parts of the town look different enough so that people don’t get lost? Should it? I have my own ideas (you’ll not be surprised to learn!) but I wonder what others think. I should also note here that Cary has had a reputation among many of North Carolina’s planners as a well-planned municipality.

Read more here:


Anonymous said...

Cary is a classic example of what you get when the planner's idea of how everything 'should' look gets turned into an ordinance- it all looks the same. The very antithesis of 'unique'. And that pattern and that look will be with them for decades whether they decide later they like it or not. One more arguement against a form based code that presumes there is only one design that is acceptable.

Anonymous said...

The aerial picture is conveniently cropped. Just south of Cary's Amtrack station, there is a storefront district comparable to downtown Matthews.

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