North Charleston has won a new national award recognizing sustainable development, and city leaders trumpeted the news as proof that their city is a place people increasingly want to live.
"It vindicates a lot of efforts we've done," Mayor Keith Summey said.
The Home Depot Foundation announced Monday that North Charleston and Minneapolis are the first two recipients of its Award of Excellence for Sustainable Community Development.
Each city will receive $75,000. North Charleston's money will go to The Sustainability Institute, a local nonprofit that promotes energy conservation and green building practices.
Fred Wacker, director of the Home Depot Foundation, said he has visited North Charleston since 1978 and was impressed at how it bounced back from the Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard closure in the 1990s.
"People just didn't give up," he said, "and they took the opportunity of the closing of the Navy base to build the city stronger."
The award cited the base closure and struggles with vacant homes, a low home-ownership rate and poverty, while praising the city's response, which includes efforts to reduce blight, limit pollution from rainwater runoff, promote ecological awareness, increase bike safety and expand park space.
The foundation highlighted the city's work creating Oak Terrace Preserve, a new neighborhood not far from Park Circle, calling it a role model for the successful completion of a sustainable community.
Originally built as temporary housing for World War II shipyard workers, Century Oaks had become a dilapidated area a decade ago.
The city purchased the land, changed the name and began building a new community of single-family homes and town homes with an emphasis on sustainable development, such as a landscape that removes silt and pollution from rain runoff, energy-efficient homes and sidewalks built with recycled tires.
Summey said when the city decided to buy Century Oaks for $4.5 million, "some people thought we were a little crazy. Maybe we are. It's a good crazy."
The neighborhood, where homes sell for between $170,000 and $300,000, is about 20 percent completed. About 60 homes are built and occupied while the master plan calls for 300 single-family homes and 74 town homes.
City Councilman Bob King, who lives near the project, praised Summey and City Councilman Kurt Taylor for bringing the Noisette project to North Charleston years ago and introducing the city to the notion of sustainability.
Noisette Chief Executive Officer John Knott attended but did not speak at Monday's gathering. The project helped the city create a sustainable master plan for 3,000 acres in the city's southern end, managed Oak Terrace's construction and created three new nonprofits, including The Sustainability Institute.
Noisette also pursued a plan for an intense urban redevelopment on the former Navy base, but that project is in jeopardy after its lender filed a $23.8 million foreclosure suit earlier this year.
Bryan Cordell, executive director of the Sustainability Institute, said the $75,000 prize represents more than 10 percent of the nonprofit's annual budget and will help advance both its educational work and its efforts to rehabilitate low- to moderate-income homes so they use less energy.
But the award's national recognition might provide the biggest boost. Wacker said the foundation will create and distribute case studies of both winners so other cities and lawmakers can learn their lessons --
Taylor called the award "the biggest thing that has ever happened in the city of North Charleston," adding, "There's no question North Charleston is the livable city of the future."