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Commentary: Use DSS building to make North Charleston shining city on a hill

Marvin Pendarvis (copy) (copy)

State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis. (Provided)

Charleston County is in the fortunate position of having a superfluous property it is seeking to sell, specifically its Department of Social Services building on Rivers Avenue.

With the housing crisis getting worse, this is an opportune moment to create a model that shows how affordable housing can be done as an extension of what is being done at the old Navy hospital. County Council needs to move carefully and deliberately and sell this property to a developer with a plan to turn it into a mixed-income, high-density, environmentally conscious development.

We also can use the property to show how compassionate the city of North Charleston is by opening it up to refugees to serve as an example of how migrants from disparate cultures can be welcomed into what is beautifully becoming a melting pot of a metro area.

It is only a single property, but it will set a precedent for how development should proceed. Our aim with this property should be to do the maximum amount within the small space that we have. That means making it a planned unit development that uses the best urban and social science to make the most thriving and vibrant community we can make with people from every socioeconomic status, ethnic background and more, living as a microcosm of what the human family should be in a way that nurtures our natural environment as much as possible.

It should be the first step in a long process in transforming North Charleston into a multicultural, high-density, loving, kind and environmentally friendly city. With all of the division and environmental destruction, we have no option but to do everything in our power to project love and protect the environment.

This is all part of a broader program our office is creating called 45-45-10: 45% lower income, 45% middle income, 10% higher income. The current discourse surrounding development is about gentrification and whether we should stop it. It posits that our only options are to leave an area underdeveloped or to evict the poor residents — in blunter terms, to make an area middle class and white or to keep it poor and black.

This is a false choice. Our emphasis should be on forging multicultural, mixed-income communities and communities that spur economic growth and development by concentrating commercial and civic activity in walkable nodes that are better for the environment and the local economy since people spend more in pedestrian areas. 45-45-10 designs landscapes that are socially just, economically thriving and good for the Earth.

North Charleston must have development that is socially just and raises the private and public revenues of an area. That requires a mixed-income approach. We cannot choose between gentrification and not gentrifying. We have to accommodate all income levels in a way that funds the infrastructure and services everyone benefits from. The only way equity can happen on a local level is through mixed-income communities.

The neighborhood on the south end of the city where the DSS building is located dearly needs the resources a program like this would avail. Furthermore, it is adjacent to the North Charleston Superstop, the emerging Teddie Pryor social services building and the future bus rapid transit route that connects it to the entire area.

In all of the despair of the past few months, this is our chance to begin a new chapter in our narrative. To build a loving community that will defy the darkness and breathe light and life into the world from our city. To show that we are stronger than the hatred and the division that tear us apart. We should make our stand here.

The property the county is set to sell is large enough to make into a planned unit development. And if we can show that people of all backgrounds can live together in fraternity and that refugees from the most tragic places on Earth are welcomed with open hearts and open arms, then our city shall be that city on a hill. It shall represent, in small part, that New Jerusalem that America was meant to be.

State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis represents House District 113, which includes parts of North Charleston.

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