Born in Berkeley, California and raised in San Francisco, Carter attended San Francisco Polytechnic High School and worked as a gardener in Golden Gate Park during his late teens. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, after which he attended the City College of San Francisco. Carter then commenced his studies in landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley under Leland Vaughan. In 1948 he began working in the office of Thomas Church, where he met Lawrence Halprin and Satoru Nishita. Carter joined Lawrence Halprin & Associates upon its formation in 1949, graduating from Berkeley the following year with a B.S. in landscape architecture. He led Halprin’s team on the design of St. Francis Square in San Francisco (1961) and was the lead designer on some of the firm’s earliest signature commissions, including Ghirardelli Square (1962-1968), The Sea Ranch (1963-1970), and the ten-year Market Street Development Project in San Francisco (1962-1975). His most significant project was the Gene Leahy Mall in Omaha, Nebraska (1974), where Carter shared design responsibilities for sixteen years. In 1975 he and four other principals made a deal with Halprin to buy the firm, re-forming it and renaming it CHNMB Associates (Carter, Hull, Nishita, McCulley, and Baxter), Carter being one of its two principal designers. CHNMB closed in 1985, and the smaller firm Nishita & Carter was formed. They primarily worked as consultants to former architectural colleagues. Carter co-founded the firm CTLK (Carter Tighe Leeming + Kajiwara) in 1994 after Nishita retired, retiring himself in 2001 due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Carter was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1993. He passed away in San Francisco at the age of 83 and was buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.