Cary: Issues & Challenges
Three key challenges tackled by town authorities of Cary, NC are aging and diversifying population, little land for development, and rising transportation needs. Solving them is a part of a large initiative undertaken by the town of Cary, which is "The Cary 2040 Community Plan."
Aging and Diversifying Population
Description of the Issue
- Some of the key drivers of this issue, as described in the 2017-2040 town's "Community Plan," include retiring baby boomers, many retirees moving to the area, a higher number of single-person households, more racially and ethnically diverse citizens, and more professionals delaying starting a family or deciding not to do it at all.
- Between 2010 and 2015, the number of Cary residents over 55 grew from 12% to 18%.
- Out of the 14 largest cities in North Carolina, Cary has the 3rd oldest median age, which is 37.7.
- From 2000 to 2010, the average household size decreased from 2.69 to 2.61.
- At the same time, the population of unmarried singles grew from 23.5% to 28.2%, and the percentage of foreign residents went from 5% to 20%.
- While Cary has a high reputation as a suburban community, the above changes in its population make the model less relevant. Its success is mostly based on providing a family-friendly experience. Housing options for people looking for something beyond a single-family unit are limited.
- At the same time, even Cary's offer for families is becoming outdated. Most couples with children are from the millennial generation, which is known to prioritize affordability and availability of alternative transportation. In the town, most single-family units do not have good access to bike lanes and sidewalks or the proximity of bus stops.
Why the Issue is Important
- Demographic shifts are followed by changes in preferences related to housing, transportation, and other aspects of lifestyle. National data reinforces this observation by town authorities.
- Since the shift encompasses both younger and older generations, including families and single residents, and affect the eagerness of young professionals to live in Cary (since they often decide to stay single and often look for housing that is close to work), the issue affects the entire community.
- As the town of Cary wants to continue providing a high-quality experience to its residents, it needs to evolve along with their lifestyle preferences.
Attempts to Solve It
- Cary implemented new housing policies, which are 1) maintain neighborhood character 2) provide more housing options for all citizens 3) provide more housing options in new neighborhoods 4) provide the greatest variety of housing options in mixed use centers 5) support residential development on infill and redevelopment sites 6) encourage and support the provision of affordable dwellings.
- It also runs The Neighborhood Improvement Grant Program, through which it provides funding for projects that address issues in specific neighborhoods, as well as improve economic, recreational, or environmental conditions within them. It plans to increase the funding and scope of the initiative.
- It has the 5-Year Plan for affordable housing to incorporate the needs of first-time buyers, young families, low-income citizens, and other groups, while also maintaining the safety and diversity of the neighborhoods.
- The plan is done through collaboration with the federal government. The funds from the partnership are also to be used to develop more varied housing options.
- The Community Plan outlines plans to launch an interdisciplinary task force to work with all stakeholders on developing diverse housing options and mixed communities. The town also wants to involve housing issues as a part of the Phoenix Project, which now mostly focuses on neighborhoods' safety.
- The Planning, Development Services, and Transportation departments of the local government.
- Teams involved in the projects such as the 5-Year Project and the Phoenix Project.
- Several development-related businesses such as Planning NEXT, Randall Gross / Development Economics, and Alta Planning + Design.
- The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (through the Community Development Block
- There are also plans to launch several other interdepartmental teams to help with developing diversified housing. However, they don't seem to be operating yet.
Little Land for Development
Description of the Issue
- Due to formal agreements with neighboring communities, the town of Cary's possibilities of land development are extremely limited.
- Out of its entire jurisdiction area, only 18% is available for providing utility services or eventually annexing to the town.
- For example, there are only 1,400 acres that may be suitable for "Class A" office spaces.
- Additionally, many of Cary's residential and commercial developments are aging. It is especially true for several neighborhoods and shopping centers.
- At the same time, the population's changing preferences and lifestyles create the need to develop new kinds of housing and commercial units and upgrade existing neighborhoods (as explained above).
- Therefore, the town needs to move its focus to infill development and redevelopment, adjusting the regulations and design standards.
Why the Issue is Important
- The necessary shift in paradigm will affect the entire community, as it will define the shape of the town's evolving areas and guarantee sufficient protection of natural resources.
- Additionally, while the town is known for its top-quality developments, they have usually been in vacant or agricultural areas. Therefore, to maintain the level of experience it provides to residents and businesses, town authorities and collaborating bodies need to address the challenge and change the standards in a way, which will allow them to continue offering similar value.
- At the same time, a large part of the business done in Cary relied on development projects in undeveloped areas. Therefore, the model of doing business has to evolve.
- It is also strongly linked to other challenges faced by the town leaders, which are growing and changing population. If the change of development focus is done right, it will help solve issues like the need for varied housing options and preference for alternative transportation.
Attempts to Solve It
- There are multiple design guidelines and manuals to assist in developments that answer the community's needs and help in the transition to redevelopment and infill development, such as the Town Center Design Guidelines and the Site Development Manual. The town plans to update and unify them to further facilitate future development.
- The town has created the outline of the improved Cary's Zoning Ordinance. Their implementation will make it easier to design projects in new development categories.
- There is also the Future Growth Framework Map, which includes suggestions of land uses (primary and secondary), designates special planning areas, and proposes several neighborhood types that incorporate the traditional atmosphere of Cary and modern ideas.
- With special planning areas, the town selected specific sites that it considers for redevelopment projects. There are talks about partnerships with those sites.
- As with the previous challenge, there are plans to launch an interdepartmental task force that will work with all stakeholders to set new development standards and support innovative projects in this area.
- The Planning and Development Services departments of the local government.
- Businesses such as Planning NEXT, Randall Gross / Development Economics, and Alta Planning + Design.
- While there are certainly other stakeholders among the ones that are involved in The Community Plan (they are listed below), it hasn't been explained which are engaged in solving this challenge in particular.
Growing Transportation Needs
Description of the Issue
- Cary, NC, has one of the fastest-growing populations in the US. Between 2000-2018, it has seen the growth of 69%, or 65,000 residents. It's influenced by the proximity of three major universities, being the part of the Research Triangle, and the influx of agriculture, advanced manufacturing, and technology companies.
- While, as of 2017, the existing transport infrastructure was sufficient to support commuters, travelers, and other interest groups, the town's population keeps growing. It is expected that at some point during the next 20 years, the demand will outgrow current transportation capacities.
- According to the estimates, the population of Cary will reach 193,000 by 2040.
- Furthermore, Cary's citizens expect multiple transportation options for all possible destinations, which urges the town to incorporate alternative travel without affecting vehicular mobility.
- The elderly in the aging population may be unable to drive as much as other groups. At the same time, millennials often prefer to avoid using the car when possible. Overall, per capita driving in the area has declined during the recession and hasn't recovered since.
- The town also emphasizes that its roadway network is nearly complete, and both Federal and State funding for transportation is running out, which moves the focus from expanding the infrastructure to improving the existing one.
Why the Issue is Important
- As noted above, the growing population is going to increase the demand for transportation. As Cary's community is used to an efficient system of streets, greenways, biking facilities, and sidewalks, it is a major challenge to maintain the same level of services and avoid overcrowding, while having a reduced transportation budget.
- Also, while the majority of residents still name the car as the preferred way to get around the town, as noted above, the elderly, young professionals, and families often expect easy access to other means of transport.
Attempts to Solve It
- The town is running The 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which is a part of The Community Plan. It includes systematic improvements within the available and projected budget and outlines possible sources of additional funding.
- The town officials and transit companies constantly work on improving transit schedules.
- There are also systematic efforts to maintain calm traffic inside the town and improve the quality of the streets.
- Cary also incorporates tech solutions, such as an app that provides information on biking routes.
- Furthermore, Cary participates in nation-wide initiatives, such as the Walk Friendly Community and Bike Friendly Community.
- There is also a Bikeway system in place, which includes a network of safe on-street bikeways.
Stakeholders Involved in The Community Plan
- The most pressing community challenges faced by the town leaders, along with the ways to tackle them, are addressed by The Community Plan. It outlines all the initiatives for the years 2017-2040.
- While it is impossible to verify all stakeholders involved in specific parts of the plan, there is an overall list of them in the related publication.
- It includes the Cary Town Council, with the mayor, two at-large representatives, and district representatives.
- There is also the Interdepartamental Team, which consists of representatives of all departments.
- There are also several businesses involved, which are Clarion Associates, VHB, Planning NEXT, Randall Gross / Development Economics, Alta Planning & Design, and Nelson / Nygaard.
- There are also several other government committees and boards, such as Environmental Advisory Board, History Preservation Committee, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources Advisory Board Planning & Zoning Board, and Public Art Advisory Board.
- Two open house bodies, which are the Transportation Committee and the Committee for the Future.
- The plans to solve the main challenges faced by Cary involve launching multiple interdepartmental teams. However, in the main outline of the plan, there aren't many open house committees, business stakeholders, or initiatives that include community participation. Are you planning to launch more initiatives that include the above-mentioned groups and use their input and expertise?
- There is an emphasis on providing housing options for seniors. However, what about entertainment, healthcare, and other facilities that cater to the needs of the aging population?
According to our research through regional and national media sites, including news, business, lifestyle, and other outlets, Cary is widely considered as one of the top towns in the country. It has been named several times as one of the best places to live in the US. Therefore, the articles and reports that mention Cary focus on its advantages rather than issues and challenges. Even local media and the news section on the town's website talk about it in an upbeat tone, either not covering the issues or briefly mentioning them among a multitude of assets.
However, in 2017, the town of Cary implemented "The Community Plan," which addresses all the major challenges impacting the local community. The plan covers all issues and ways to tackle them, mapping planned developments between 2017 and 2040. It replaced several other community-related initiatives, covering the whole planning area of the town. The first chapter of the plan outlines four major issues faced by Cary, which are "aging and diversifying population," "limited land for development," "increasing transportation demands," and "demand for 21st century development options." We decided to cover three of those challenges. We assumed that they are the top ones, based on the fact that they were emphasized in the large-scale community initiative. Please note that our response is mostly based on the source that is older than 24 months, which makes it outdated according to our standards. However, as explained above, "The Community Plan" is supposed to be continuously implemented until 2040 and includes the most comprehensive information on Cary community issues. The most detailed explanation is included in the publication from the beginning of 2017. Therefore, we considered the information still relevant (verifying it with the roadmap).