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Academy Street Improvements
Cary, North Carolina

Landscape Architecture, Planning and Transportation/Civil/Electrical Engineering by Clark Nexsen


Mixed in with the pavers in the plaza on Academy Street in Cary, N.C., are 7.8" x 2.36" x 3.9" SL9 solar accent pavers (the translucent ones). According to the manufacturer, they reach full charge in 3-5 hours and illuminate for up to 12 hours. These solar pavers have 4 LEDs, and capacitors to keep the light level the same over the length of the charge. The solar pavers are designed to withstand up to 55,104 lbs.

Cary, North Carolina (pop. 135,234), in the central part of the state, might be called a bedroom community for the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It's estimated that less than 30 percent of Cary's population was born here. Cary is growing and prospering. It's noted for having good public schools and for being a safe community. It's bounded by Research Triangle Park, home to over 200 companies, including a large IBM facility, and employs 50,000 workers and 10,000 contractors.

The city's east side is the location of the downtown, as well as the oldest neighborhoods and historic buildings, such as the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, a former hotel. The west side is the newer part of town and visibly more wealthy.



Twelve blocks of granite from the North Carolina Granite Quarry in Mount Airy, N.C. were carved by artist Jack Mackie into the shape of musical instruments common to the Carolina Piedmont and Appalachia: mandolin, dulcimer, dobro, violin and courting dulcimer. The benches have etched verses from Yeats and Coleridge, but also from N.C. residents Carl Sandburg, R.R. Richardson and Maya Angelou. The granite has polished or flame finishes.

Academy Street runs through the heart of downtown, and is the signature street of the Town Center area plan to create a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown environment. Clark Nexsen worked closely with Cary town officials to craft a streetscape design that promotes the emerging arts district, and serves as a destination for residents and visitors.

Completed in spring of 2017, this project aimed to enhance the pedestrian experience and re-energize the streetscape. There was extensive public outreach and involvement of the town council and representatives from multiple city departments to create an engaging connector between the Arts District, Village and "Main Street" areas. From sidewalk widening to the addition of clearly marked parking, this project has delivered a positive impact for downtown Cary. Academy Street safely accommodates drivers, public transit, cyclists and pedestrians in an environment focused on walkability and functionality for businesses and events.


The sidewalk hardscape includes Pine Hall brick and Hanover 12"x12" pedestrian pavers. Hanover 4"x8" pavers were also incorporated on the street. Japanese maples are in the large concrete planters.

"Outdoor rooms" are at the core of the reimagined streetscape concept and provide environments for groups to gather and enjoy the active downtown scene. Connected by widened, 10-foot sidewalks that feature intermittent seating, these rooms integrate public art and serve as a distinguishing element.

Artistic elements abound along Academy Street, reflecting the district's use as a festival and public performance venue. Jack Mackie, the team's artist, researched the area's history to incorporate art that would resonate with residents. These efforts involved coordination with Cary Visual Arts, a nonprofit that organizes rotating art displays along Academy Street, and the integration of art, such as granite benches carved in the shape of musical instruments and engraved with quotes related to music or Cary's history.


Enhanced electrical infrastructure, buried utilities and the addition of high-voltage outlets along the street support the needs of bands, vendors and food trucks for festival events.

The Academy Street design was focused on accommodating downtown festivals. The new wide sidewalks, public seating and overall layout facilitate a positive experience for attendees. Enhanced electrical infrastructure, buried utilities and the addition of high-voltage outlets along the street support the needs of bands, vendors and food trucks.

Customized materials on Academy Street support the design in creating a sense of place. The granite benches, which pay homage to the area's music history, are composed of North Carolina granite with varying polished and flame finishes. 'Scarborough' style metal benches and 'Parc Centre' bistro tables and chairs offer a variety of fixed and mobile seating along the streetscape, providing visitors with options to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Landscaping is accented in multiple ways. Some of the large existing trees (and temporary art) are uplit; there are also LED tree string lights and 'Camellia' patterned tree grates. Duke Energy provided the pedestrian-scale LED street lighting. Alternative modes of transportation, such as biking, are promoted by the inclusion of custom bike racks with a dogwood flower motif.


Streetscape site amenities include 'Scarborough' style metal benches and litter/recycle receptacles, 'Parc Centre' bistro tables/chairs, 'Camellia' patterned tree grates (Ironsmith)--Allée elms pictured in the grates--and custom bike racks with a 'Dogwood Flower' motif made from 2" tubular steel.

New pavers for the sidewalk and roadway bring a complementary aesthetic. The sidewalk hardscape includes Pine Hall brick and Hanover 12"x12" pedestrian pavers. Hanover 4"x8" pavers were also incorporated on the street, including lane markings with pavers in yellow and white. There are also solar accent pavers that charge during the day and glow all night.


The streetlights in Cary are leased from Duke Energy Progress. They have been replaced with LEDs housed in acorn-style luminaires and featuring a Type III lighting pattern to help direct light onto the street while reducing spill light to adjoining properties. Type III distribution is meant for roadway lighting, general parking areas and other areas where a larger area of lighting is required.

The project was successful largely due to extensive community involvement. When redesigning and constructing a streetscape, the potential is always there for negative impacts on businesses and residents, particularly with street closings, detours and slower traffic. By facilitating extensive stakeholder involvement, the team was able to keep the public up-to-date on all project phases. Today, there is a sense of positive energy brought on by the new streetscape. Since completion, the downtown area is flourishing, with local shops reporting an increase in business and foot traffic.

Academy Street recently won a Community Enhancement Champion Award from the Triangle Commercial Real Estate Women.

Project Team
Owner/Client: Cary, N.C.
Landscape Architecture; Planning; Transportation/Civil/Electrical Engineering:
Clark Nexsen
Geotechnical Engineering, Environmental and Construction Inspection:
Falcon Engineering
Public Art: studioMackie, LLC
Surveying: Taylor, Wiseman & Taylor


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As seen in LASN magazine, August 2017.

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May 26, 2019, 3:17 pm PDT

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