January 23, 2008

Meetings planned on Cairo revitalization project

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Faculty and students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, in tandem with members of the Alexander County group calling itself Vision 20/20, are plotting a course of action for a better future for the riverfront community of Cairo. They're seeking more public involvement, with community meetings set for 6 p.m. Jan. 28, Feb. 11 and Feb. 25 at the Cairo Urban Studio office located at 713 Washington Ave.

They'll initially turn their attention to completing a survey begun last fall. Starting with the historic district, they've been surveying properties and land. Plans call for concentrating on completion of the survey to determine what is actually in Cairo at this time. At some point, they'll post the data on a Web site to be developed. During the upcoming community meetings, participants will prepare survey forms and maps and organize into teams to continue and hopefully complete the survey work in March or shortly thereafter, said Robert H. Swenson, associate professor and architect from the SIUC School of Architecture.

The project began in summer 2007 with the SIUC "Preservation Summer" class launching the urban design and community revitalization. Soon, the Cairo Rotary Club and the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone (SIDEZ) joined the effort. During the fall 2007 semester, students from the SIUC Urban Design and Community class along with a group of local residents, organized as the Cairo Vision 20/20 Committee, continued the project. Work included creating proposed development plans, helping save the historic First Christian Church building, formulating long-term goals for Cairo and getting more local people, including teens, involved.

Graduation prerequisites have last semester's SIUC Urban Design architectural students tied up at present, but Gene Burse, a junior from Peoria, is actively involved as an independent studies student. Meanwhile, SIUC anthropology assistant professor Roberto E. Barrios and some of his students, along with former professor Rachel Malcolm-Ensor, are involved in the Cairo revitalization project in the spring semester, as is Swenson. Likewise, Elaine Jurkowski, associate professor in social work, and the Egyptian Area Agency on Aging continue work with their Livable Cities Survey.

Another objective soon to be completed is selection of a "shotgun" house that will be the focus of a Heritage Conservation Network Restoration Workshop this summer. Tentatively slated for June 16-July 4, Swenson said Preservation Summer 2008 students, along with local teens and community listeners, will again team up in the workshop, much as they did last summer at the Kornthal Church and parsonage. In addition, Jon Davey, architecture professor at SIUC, is planning a Kid Architecture Camp for Cairo youths interested in participating in Vision 20/20 activities and the "shotgun house" restoration project. Plans call for them to then work with the Preservation Summer class researching historic resources located in the Cairo Historic District and seeking to add them to the National Historic Register.

For more information about the upcoming public meetings or the Cairo revitalization project, contact Swenson at 618/453-4772 or via e-mail at rswenson@siu.edu.