WASHINGTON — What will the cities of the future look like?
That was the challenge addressed by 40,000 middle school students from 1,350 schools across the U.S. in an annual competition to design the urban landscape of tomorrow. Thirty-seven teams made the finals and traveled to Washington, D.C., to defend their ideas before the judges at the Future City competition.
The annual contest aims to direct young people toward careers in science and technology. It is sponsored by a consortium of professional and technical societies and some major U.S. corporations.
The students built tabletop scale models of their designs using recycled materials, costing no more than $100. The teams also had to write essays about their solutions, explain their ideas to the crowd and answer the questions asked by a six-member expert panel.
Gregory Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems Incorporated, one of the competition's major sponsors, said this year’s theme was ‘urban transportation’ -- an increasingly important issue for the world's cities.
“We sort of have the first generation, I think now, in the United States, who are not committed to having a car to be a part of their life,” said Bentley.
Eighth-graders from the southern state of Georgia -- David Straub, Katherine Barri and Rebecca North -- envisioned their city far into the future.
Straub said they predicted that public transport would be effortless and eco-friendly. “It’s a new system that focuses, has a focus on magnetic frequency, which will allow people to levitate and float along the magnetic fields,” he said.
Young teens compete
Leila Mezza, Oha Hassan and Mousa Seid from Houston, Texas, imagined a city in Brazil in 2084, with transport relying on electric cars. “These garages have photovoltaic cells and whenever our cars are parked over here, they get their energy to drive later on," said Mezza.
Bentley said the Future City competition, now in its 22nd year, is deliberately focused on young teens. “Because at that age in the United States, they have to elect the math courses, the advanced math courses. If they don’t at that age, they will never be an engineer,” he said.
The grand prize of $7,500 went to St. John Lutheran School in Michigan. The team members won a trip to U.S. Space Camp.
Even if they didn't win, the experience of working on an engineering project has encouraged many of the kids to think about a career in science and technology. One of them is Eric Swyler from New Mexico, who said, “I plan to become a scientist of some kind, but I’m not sure exactly what kind.”
Swyler does not have to worry. He has plenty of time to decide.