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.
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. Here’s what the website I run, PlanCharlotte.org, 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.