Rising Star: Cary, NC
The "Research Triangle" of North Carolina between Raleigh and Research Triangle Park.
Biggest initiative :
The Cary 2040 Community Plan.
Ranked Safest City in the Nation (24/7 Wall Street, 2016), 2nd Most Successful City in the U.S. (Zippia, 2016), and 4th Best Real Estate Market in the U.S. (WalletHub, 2017), among others.
Cary, NC is certainly not considered a big city. Some don't consider it a city at all. Nestled in the heart of North Carolina's Research Triangle, the Town of Cary is home to tree-lined streets, historical infrastructure and a modest community of 160,000 residents.
But don't let its size fool you. Cary is climbing the smart "city" ranks quickly — and is nipping at the heels of the countries' hottest metropolitan areas from coast to coast.
"I define a smart city as connecting the right people at the right time with the right information," explained Dan Ault, Cary's chief innovation officer and assistant town manager. "You could go back in time 100 years ago, that was still an important thing. It's just today, it's a different world."
Though Ault is fairly new to Cary's leadership team — he joined in December 2016 after working in various other local governments — he is familiar with leading cities in the "Goldilocks zone" of small- to medium-sized. Ault says opportunities to change and grow these cities are more bountiful because "you get a little bit of everything," all while operating as one cohesive unit.
One way that Cary has exemplified this cohesive leadership is through its Cary 2040 Community Plan. The plan takes a holistic look at the town and addresses an abundance of developmental entities including land use, mobility, historic preservation, housing, recreational resources, and public services, all to be transformed and improved over the next two decades.
"What the 2040 plan really highlights is that Cary has evolved as a community, and over the next 20 years, both regionally and probably even internationally, it'll be a different type of player," Ault said, highlighting that five years and 20,000 volunteer hours were put into writing the plan.
Cary 2040 Community Plan
To maintain strong residential areas while creating new neighborhoods.
- Maintain neighborhood character
- Provide more housing choices
- Support residential development on infill and redevelopment sites
To foster a prosperous, diverse economy.
- Grow a sustainable workforce
- Enhance locational appeal
- Retain existing businesses while attracting new, high-value businesses
- Promote high-quality education
To manage land and create an attractive environment for commercial or retail properties.
- Facilitate redevelopment of underperforming commercial centers
- Focus commercial uses within mixed-use and destination centers, as well as downtown and commercial centers
To create a vibrant cultural and arts environment.
- Maintain status as amateur sports destination
- Maintain quality of the parks, recreation and cultural resources system
- Preserve and protect historic resources
- Promote public art
To make Cary more vibrant and walkable through new development opportunities.
- Distribute commercial centers across town
- Encourage mixed-use development
- Provide appropriate transitions between land uses
- Preserve appearance and quality of development
To provide an attractive network of streets and transit facilities.
- Ensure safety for all users
- Apply multimodal street designs
- Minimize thoroughfare widths
- Design infrastructure to address land use context
To lead in service and infrastructure provision while remaining at forefront of IT and utilities.
- Provide safe, reliable water, wastewater and stormwater management
- Ensure responsible waste disposal
- Improve air quality and energy efficiency
- Support local food systems
The town has also leveraged its location in the Research Triangle as a way to reel in tech talent. Cary was home to an ITT Technical Institute campus and is the host location for SAS Institute, an analytics software developer. These institutions have positioned Cary as a municipality that stays on the cutting edge of innovation and advanced insights — a crucial quality for any smart city.
As Cary works through its community plan, it will also continue to focus on adopting innovative, technology-based solutions for citywide problems. The town recently announced a partnership with Cisco to utilize the company's Cisco Kinetic for Cities platform and optimize its parking availability. Cary is also working on a way to analyze data on sewage flow in order to combat opioid use.
However, as SAS employee and Cary city council member Jennifer Robinson told Smart Cities Dive in a July interview, none of these opportunities can be successful without keeping Cary's broad mission in mind.
"The important thing is for us to just focus on the end goal, which is to be a responsive government for our citizens and to make quality of life as high as it can be for the people who choose to call Cary home," she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story cited Cary's ITT Technical Institute campus, which closed in September 2016.
Follow Kristin Musulin on Twitter