Biggest City That Never Was: Cairo, Illinois

11-15-2012 10:30 PM
Esri Frequent Contributor
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I recently created a map in ArcGIS Online and a series of videos that shows the location of what may be the biggest city that never was:  Cairo, Illinois.  During the mid-1800s, many believed that this city, founded on the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, gateways to settlement of the central and western United States, could someday surpass Philadelphia or even New York

I created the map for several reasons.  First, like many of you, I am fascinated by maps.  Mapping is a natural way to tell a story, and Cairo has a very interesting story to tell.  For several geographic reasons, Cairo not only didn’t live up to its expectations, and has been declining by 10% to 20% per decade for the past 70 years (2010 population, 2,831).  While Cairo has a good situation on the point of land divided by the rivers, the site is flood-prone.  In addition, the rise of St Louis upstream on the Mississippi River also posed challenges for Cairo.  In fact, socioeconomically, Cairo remains one of the poorest communities in the region, which you can investigate for yourself by pulling up the “USA Demographics for Schools” layer in ArcGIS Online and investigating median income and median home value.  It nevertheless has a fascinating and unique character steeped in history and geography.

The second reason I created the map was because ArcGIS Online allows for the easy integration of multimedia elements to tell a story.  In my case, I created the map only after having the opportunity to visit Cairo this year en route to Murray State University, taking videos and photographs to be sure, but also getting a “sense of place” for Cairo.  During my visit, my discovery of a tiny community just north of Cairo dubbing itself “Future City” seemed to fit perfectly with the above themes.  At the river confluence, a weathered monument in the shape of Lewis and Clark’s boat the Merrimack standing in a rather forlorn state park seemed to reinforce the fact that this was the Biggest City That Never Was.  The photographs and videos I took there were easily integrated into my ArcGIS Online map.

What important places on the landscape have you visited or read about, and how might you create stories about them using ArcGIS Online?

--Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.