October 26, 2007

SIUC architecture students develop plans for Cairo

by Christi Mathis


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CARBONDALE, Ill. – Students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will present a neighborhood redevelopment plan proposal for the Southern Illinois community of Cairo at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29.

Students from the fall semester Urban Design and Community class will present the plan at the First Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of 18th and Washington Streets. The montage represents the best elements of the 12 individual plans crafted by the young architectural students.

Members of the Cairo Vision 20/20 Committee have led community tours for the Urban Design and Community students in recent weeks to help them better understand the physical and social organization of Cairo and its history, said Robert H. Swenson, associate professor and architect from the SIUC School of Architecture. He said personal relationships developed between the community and the students are invaluable.

The group's plan is all encompassing, looking at assessing current strengths, shortfalls and capacity for growth to identifying ways to improve the city's image, expand community pride, and revitalize the community. The SIUC students created individual visions for a land use and transportation plan using those goals and priorities along with information gathered during community tours. They'll present a suggested plan to the 20/20 committee and Swenson said the public is encouraged to attend and offer input as well.

Swenson said the students also will present "special focus" project ideas on key issues, including working with residents of Pyramid Courts to improve their living situation, recreational opportunities for youth, educational opportunities for youth and seniors, increased community event opportunities and improved health care access. They also are calling upon the expertise of SIUC faculty and students from other disciplines, including social work, anthropology, education and more. The plan requires participation by Cairo residents and area agencies to succeed, Swenson said.

With assistance from the Cairo Rotary Club and the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone (SIDEZ), the SIUC "Preservation Summer" classes initiated the urban design and community revitalization project. The fall semester Urban Design and Community Class is now spearheading the effort with ample help from Cairo residents, the Cairo Rotary Club and area organizations and agencies.

The project has a new headquarters at 707 Washington Ave. in Cairo in the Cairo Citizen newspaper building. Publisher Jim West and Reppert Publications Inc., owner of the Cairo Citizen, are donating use of the office space. The Presbyterian Church has provided a desktop computer and printer for public use in the office too. The individual student 're-image and master planning' proposals were showcased there in recent weeks.

Interest in the Cairo revival project has grown well beyond the state's borders to neighboring areas and even as far away as New Orleans. Pamela Dashiell, president of the New Orleans Lower 9th Ward Community Association, visited recently. Swenson said she 'fell in love with Cairo and suggested that we develop a 'Delta neighbors' relationship between Cairo and the Lower 9th in New Orleans," an idea of interest to Cairo, he said. SIUC students have been providing planning and rebuilding assistance in the Katrina-devastated New Orleans neighborhood as well. Michael D. Brazley, assistant architecture professor at SIUC, leads the New Orleans portion of the project.

Other SIUC classes will be involved with the Cairo project during the spring and summer of 2008, including a section of the architecture master's regional studio class, Swenson said.


Caption follows story


Presentation review — Sarah Jane Clark and George Cowell, members of the Cairo Vision 20/20 Committee, review preliminary planning presentations created by architectural students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Urban Design and Community class.

Photo provided

Cairo office — Pam DeShiell, president of the New Orleans Lower 9th Community Association, recently visited Cairo, toured the city and met with some of those working to revitalize Cairo. Pictured are DeShiell with George Cowell and Sarah Jane Cark, from the Cairo Vision 20/20 Committee, and Michael D. Brazley, assistant professor of architecture at SIUC.

Photo provided