OJB Landscape Architecture’s Downtown Cary Park in North Carolina will be the first of its kind in the region

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North Carolina’s Research Triangle is home to a host of sprawling recreation-oriented parks other than the region’s titular 7,000-acre R&D complex, which, of course, is not a park in the traditional sense. However, central North Carolina lacks a true 21st century urban park that fully considers sustainability, accessibility, and community needs and desires.

Everything will change when a unique urban park for the region makes its public debut in downtown Cary, the third-largest municipality in the Research Triangle after Raleigh and Durham, in the summer of 2023. Last weekend, Cary, which is also the second-largest unincorporated city populous United States with more than 166,000 residents, held a celebration to officially kick off construction and development at the site of the 7-acre park, a $50 million (now $69 million) project two decades of preparation. Pre-construction works start in February of this year. After the development of the park master plan adopted by Cary City Council in March 2019, construction was originally scheduled to begin in the fall of last year for an expected opening in 2022, but this has been delayed.

Landscape Architecture and Urban Design Workshop OJB landscape architecture is leading the design of the aptly named Downtown Cary Park. Led by James Burnett, the company is best known for its transformation projects, including Klyde Warren Park which spans the freeway in Dallas, Levy Park in Houston and Chicago’s Park in Lakeshore East. As noted earlier by Awhen the firm was announced last October as the winner of a 2020 National Design Award in the landscape architecture category, OJB-led projects are driving community-beneficial change and enhancing connectivity in cities where there are open spaces like those mentioned above.

Aerial view of the Bark Bar and Park Street Courtyards, an area envisioned as a hub of social activity at the corner of Park and Walker streets. (Courtesy of OJB Landscape Architecture)

The promise of catalytic change is very present in the design of the ambitious Downtown Cary Park, which is positioned as a central element in the broader revitalization of the city downtown.

“We view parks and open spaces as essential public infrastructure that makes our communities stronger, healthier and more connected,” Cody Klein, partner at OJB Landscape Architecture, said in a statement. “We salute the City of Cary’s visionary investment in this type of public infrastructure as a critical foundation for the future growth of its downtown. It will be a park for the community, based on community aspirations, for generations to come.

The park’s design is organized as a series of outdoor “rooms” anchored by a large, sprawling lawn and connected by a series of winding pathways, elevated walkways, and water features. These water features play a key role in the design of the park, taking the form of green infrastructure – swales, rain gardens, terraced ponds, etc. catchment area.

As stated in a press announcement, the park “will balance active programming with a unique botanical experience” and will feature shade gardens, perennial gardens, wetland and water plantings, pollinator gardens, native grasslands , etc. While the park’s plantings will showcase “the extraordinary natural beauty native to North Carolina and Piedmont,” the park’s defining feature, as noted in the press announcement, will be its active programming: art exhibits, performances and concerts, cardio and fitness classes, outdoor film screenings, etc.

illustration of a dog race with a pavilion structure in the background in downtown cary park
Topped by a corrugated roof, the Bark Bar will rise next to an off-leash dog area and offers snacks, shaded seating and restrooms. (Courtesy of OJB Landscape Architecture)

This programming will take place throughout the park in several key areas, including at the Great Lawn, a flexible space described as the “beating heart of the park” that will be equipped with a soaring performance pavilion for concerts and other large-scale events. This performance space and other pavilion structures throughout the park were designed in collaboration with Boston-based Machado Silvetti.

Other core areas of the park will include Academy Plaza, an extension and reimagining of an existing one-acre park on the site that will include a multi-purpose pavilion, shaded seating, an interactive water feature and more. The Gathering House and Garden will be a tranquil space flanked by a botanical garden that offers both quiet, contemplative times and festive events, and The Nest, a nature-focused play area described as an “experiential play environment.” and inclusive one of a kind. it will spark the imagination of children of all ages and abilities. Finally, the new lineup will be complemented by Park Street Courts, a lively social and recreational center complete with a putting green, where park visitors can partake in a range of games and activities, including cornhole, ping- pong, etc. The Bark Street Bar, another social venue offering snacks, drinks and other amenities in a large shaded pavilion with a serpentine roof, will be directly adjacent to the Park Street Courts and a planned dog play area.

Described by Ted Boyd, Cary’s Director of Economic Development, as a “growth catalyst for years to come”, Downtown Cary Park is slated to open in the summer of 2023.

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