Sunday, May 12, 2013

Imagine Cary, Art and the Downtown Park

Imagine Cary - or imagine what Cary could become if we let the new-urbanists ruin it. That was my take from the Summit on the Future event held at Embassy Suites.

The Summit was our first crack at gathering community input as we work towards the new Cary Community Plan.

Somebody thought it would be a good idea to invite Mr. Chris Leinberger to serve as the keynote speaker of the event. Mr. Leinberger, a Brookings Fellow, is a developer who specializes in progressive, high density, transit oriented new-urbanism development. Mr. Leinberger also serves as the President of LOCUS. LOCUS is a national coalition of real estate developers and investors whose job it is to lobby federal and state governments for policies that support sustainable, walkable, transit oriented urban development. In a nutshell, Mr. Leinbergermakes his living off of the development of high density new-urban communities. Sounds just like Cary right?

On three separate occasions, Mr. Leinberger presented his vision to approximately 750 members of our community. Needless to say it was an incredibly biased and one sided vision. Following each presentation participants were then push-polled regarding a number of topics to include growth, taxes, transit, affordable housing and density. I have a hard time putting much faith in the data collected given the manner in which we collected that information.

During one of Mr. Leinberger’s presentations he actually compared suburbia (74% of Cary housing BTW) to an X-rated movie theater. Seriously.

What angers me the most about Mr. Leinberger’s presentation is that from the beginning of this process I have made it crystal clear to town staff and the consultant team that I expect balance in any information we disseminate to the public. I stated on numerous occasions that if we have someone speak to the benefits of, say, transit for example, we also discuss the negatives such as cost implications or change in character of the community. We got none of that. All we got was, “all the cool kids are doing rail so you have to do rail also.”

They didn’t listen. So now the council has asked for a worksession with staff and the consultant team to discuss and iron out our concerns prior to continuing with the process.

It’s a shame. But other than the Leinberger disaster the event was very well done. Ms. Leigh Ann King’s presentation regarding the demographics and trends in Cary was very informative. I even learned a few things I didn’t already know; such as more Cary residents travel to Raleigh for work than RTP or that more people come to Cary for their job than leave Cary. Interesting stuff. We needed more of that and a lot less Leinberger.

Another fun topic of discussion this week was the firesculpture at the corner of Academy and Dry/Kildaire across from the Cary Arts Center.

It’s the thing that looks like an old burnt up out-building with a gaping crack down its side.

While the weeklong process to construct and ultimately fire the sculpture was a wonderful community event, that event ended months ago and we are now left with a “sculpture” that is entirely out of place at its current location.

The piece also sits on what will be Cary’s future town square once the downtown park is constructed – which leads one to question why a permanent installation of this magnitude was recommended at this location to begin with.

The council voted 6-1 to direct staff to relocate the piece to a more suitable location.

And speaking of the downtown park, the council has also asked for another worksession on the topic to further discuss our intentions and vision for the park prior to awarding any contract for design and construction services.

I continue to support the public library and seven acre park concept as originally approved by council in 2009. This concept honors the intent of a large central park in Cary’s downtown while also providing for public uses that will compliment and add value to the surrounding community. It indicated a town square, water features and an outdoor amphitheater area along with areas for public art… temporary of course.

National Night Out and National Train Day in downtown were both a huge success and thank goodness the weather cooperated. Hopefully it does the same for next weekend’s Wheels on Academy Car Show. Now thats my kind of art. See you there!