City Gets Breath of New Life

Cairo Gets Breath of New Life
By: Arnold Wyrick

CAIRO, Ill. - Cairo's history dates back to before the Civil War, and the little river town nestled at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers has played a key role in our nations' history.
Now, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, along with some of his students are working hand-in-hand with a group of citizens in Cairo to breath some new life into the historic town.
"That confluence in the rivers is incredibly strategic in this nation, not just the history, but industry and energy.  Plus agri-food products.  So that's an incredibly strategic place and it hasn't been fully developed," said Robert Swenson, SIU's Associate Professor of Architecture.
Swenson held a meeting in Cairo on Tuesday evening to gauge what sort of response he'd get from forming a local committee to rebuild and rejuvenate the town.
"And I was only expecting about 10 people to show up.  We had 27 show up.  And what we're going to do, me and my Urban Development students, is give them all the tools they'll need to make decisions about reorganizing neighborhoods.  And what it takes to bring in business," Swenson said.
It's help the mayor of Cairo has been looking for since taking office earlier this year.
"We're running on shoestrings now and we're just looking for ways to revive our city.  If we can get things in here, if we can get industry in here probably more people will come back to Cairo.  People who have left for one reason or another over the years, mainly because there were no jobs here to be had," said Mayor Judan Childs.
Talk of some industry locating into the area is swirling around, like a possible coal gas-diffusion plant, or a bio-diesel depot setting up shop along the banks of one of the rivers bordering the town.  Some local business owners welcome the thought of Cairo regaining it's bustling days as a hub for commerce moving up and down the rivers.
"That is the best thing that could happen to this area.  As far as jobs and opportunities for everybody.  I think that would be wonderful and I hope that it does happen," said Dianne Pope, owner of Dianne's Corner in Cairo.
Cairo's population is about 3000 people.  Fifty years ago, over 18,000 people lived there.  Professor Swenson said he hopes to bring more people back to the area.