Remembering Dan Cary

New Urbanism Pioneer, 1950-2014

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Known for his infectious laugh and his passion for new urbanism, former West Palm Beach planning director Dan Cary died on March 7th, 2014. Cary was instrumental in the revitalization of Palm Beach County, including West Palm Beach, Lake Worth and Delray Beach. His obituary in the Palm Beach Post emphasized his "pivotal role in former West Palm Beach Mayor Nancy Graham’s vision to convert downtown to the ideals of New Urbanism."

"Dan was an embodiment of two seemingly contradictory characteristics: idealism and effectiveness," said CNU founder Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk at Cary's memorial. "His idealism had deep roots – manifest in his early dedication to the study of birds as an ornithologist. The trajectory is clear: his study of birds caused him to look at their environment.  Realizing that the natural environment was affected by its human neighbors and their built environment, he immersed himself in that big picture."

James Howard Kunstler featured Cary in his book Home from Nowhere, documenting his zeal for better urban design and planning. "There's some things I'd go down in flames for," said Cary in the book, when talking about a lackluster building proposed by a developer for his town. "…I blew up at him in front of all these engineers, architects and other people at the table. I started swearing at the guy, saying, 'Would you fucking move your family into this house?' His mouth drops open. 'No, you wouldn't. It sucks. And if you wouldn't live in it, what are you doing proposing to build it?"

Cary was planning director for West Palm Beach from 1999 to 2003, where he led the effort to implement Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company’s Downtown Revitalization Master Plan. Previously he spent 9 years as the executive director of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and as planning director for the South Florida Water Management District. In 2005, he was a fellow at the Seaside Institute. In addition to being a birder, Cary enjoyed sculpting. 

CNU owes a debt to Cary for his groundbreaking efforts in the early days of new urbanism. He will be greatly missed by those who worked with him, and the communities where he has had an impact.