Why Nobody Lives in These Empty Cities in Illinois

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Written By Blue & Gold NLR Team





Illinois is a state with a rich history and culture, but also a state with some of the most dangerous and abandoned cities in the country. What happened to these once thriving places, and why are they now empty and decaying? Here are some of the reasons behind the decline of these cities in Illinois.

Cairo: A Town with a Fascinating History, but a Grim Future

Cairo is a town located at the southern tip of Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet. It was once a booming river port, with a population of over 15,000 in the 1940s. It was also a cultural landmark, featured in the works of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. However, Cairo’s fortunes changed dramatically in the second half of the 20th century, due to several factors:

  • The construction of a railway bridge and an interstate highway bridge that bypassed Cairo and reduced its importance as a trade center.
  • The racial tensions and violence that erupted in the 1960s, leading to white flight, boycotts, and riots.
  • The closure of major employers, such as the hospital, the foam factory, and the paper mill, that left many residents without jobs and income.

Today, Cairo is a ghost town, with a population of less than 2,000, and most of its buildings boarded up or demolished. The town has no grocery store, no gas station, no bank, and no police department. It is a sad example of how a town with a fascinating history can end up with a grim future.

Markham: An Area with High Crime and Low Quality of Life

Markham is an area in Cook County, Illinois, with a population of about 11,700. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the state, with a violent crime rate of 1,492 per 100,000 residents, and a property crime rate of 4,507 per 100,000 residents. These rates are much higher than the national averages of 367 and 2,110, respectively. Markham also has a low quality of life, with a poverty rate of 22%, an unemployment rate of 12%, and a median household income of $40,000. Markham’s problems are partly related to its location, as it is surrounded by other high-crime areas, such as Harvey, Dixmoor, and Phoenix. Markham’s problems are also partly related to its governance, as it has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement for decades. For example, in 2017, the mayor of Markham was removed from office after being convicted of bribery and fraud. Markham is a city that offers little hope and opportunity for its residents, and many of them choose to leave or avoid it.

Other Cities in the Path of Totality for the 2024 Eclipse

One of the few reasons that might attract visitors to some of the empty cities in Illinois is the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. This rare astronomical event will be visible from a narrow path that crosses the state, and some of the cities in this path are among the most abandoned and desolate in the country. For example, some of the cities that will experience totality are:

  • Centralia, a former coal mining town that lost most of its population after a mine fire in 1962.
  • Metropolis, a town that claims to be the home of Superman, but has little else to offer.
  • Carbondale, a college town that has been struggling with declining enrollment, budget cuts, and crime.

These cities might see a temporary influx of tourists and revenue during the eclipse, but they are unlikely to see any lasting benefits or revival. They are examples of how some of the empty cities in Illinois have little to look forward to, even when the sun goes dark.

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