Guest Column

Guest column: Let’s answer the tough questions in Cary

June 10, 2013 

JEJ

Cary’s “area conversation” on June 4 was meant to answer questions – but it raised other tough ones about planning the town’s future.

As part of the Imagine Cary planning process, I took part in one of the small groups that discussed the town’s future at the Cary Senior Center. We answered questions about what we liked and disliked about Cary, and what could be done to improve the town.

My answers were typical: I praised the town’s safety and lamented the wild proliferation of strip malls. As the planning process grinds on, however, I hope we get answers to other questions:

Do we truly want a hipper, more urban town?

That was one theme of the talks at the Summit on the Future in May. I once lived in New York and Pittsburgh; now I’m glad to live in Cary. It’s not hip or colorful, but here I’m far less likely to get mugged or see my finances destroyed by a gyrating real-estate market.

Can we really outsmart the future?

As someone once said, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. For instance, one concern is Cary residents’ dependence on cars. This is especially a concern for people my age, who realize their driving skills have a “sell by” date.

But Google is testing driverless autos; maybe soon robot cars will chauffeur us older folks to the mall.

That is, if we need to go to the mall at all. Online selling is exploding. Look, for example, at Papa Spud’s right here in Cary. The company allows people to order local food online and get it delivered.

We might soon be less concerned about driving, but still want better roads so our online orders can be delivered more easily. The rest of our worries, or hopes, may also be misplaced.

Can Cary change much?

Underlying much of the discussion is the assumption that Cary can be greatly altered. But it’s a mature community now. Most of the open land has been used; I don’t think anyone imagines bulldozing big areas to start over.

There’s a limit to how much the town can be transformed.

Why not let people make their own choices?

City officials are trying sincerely to find out what people want. But the best way to do that is to cut the red tape and government interference; residents can then decide what they want.

What’s next?

As in many things, the first step is to accept reality: Cary is a pleasant if non-exciting little city, and it faces limits to change.

Second, let’s be humble about what planning can really achieve.

Finally, ordinary people are better at making decisions than central planners. Where possible, government should get out of people’s way and let them live their lives as they wish. History shows that’s the best way for any place to flourish.

Jim Tynen is a Cary resident and is director of communications for the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.

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