Over two dozen area middle schools looked toward the future and designed cities to fit into the global issues we face today.
Future City's Buffalo regional competition took place Jan. 20, with six Catholic schools competing for the attention of local engineers. Students were tasked with creating "The Age-Friendly City" with innovative solutions that can serve an urban area's older population. The Future City competition introduces students to the field of engineering and allows them to discover why math and science are relevant to their world.
Teams of students redesigned existing cities as they would look in 100 years. Each had to have all the necessary facilities such as a hospital, police station, and fire house. The Catholic schools added places of worship. Useable power sources also had to be included. Along with constructing scale models of the city, students had to write an essay, create a Sim City version, and present their vision to a panel of judges composed of engineers and teachers.
Many of the cities focused on renewable energy, with solar panels on houses or wind turbines on the higher grounds. Self-driving cars were also a popular trend.
St. Andrew's Country Day School of Kenmore was named a finalist for its revised version of Puerto Rico. Called Nuevo Tropicale, the city also earned the Most Unique Engineering Design Award for its solution to hurricane destruction. The buildings sit on a foundation as deep as they are tall, and can retract into the ground during a storm, allowing winds and rain to pass right over them.
"The buildings can go underground, so if there is a hurricane, they won't just be wiped away," explained Gwen Shivinsky. One rule of the competition is that all the innovations must be feasible. Can retractable buildings exist? "In the future, yes," Shivinsky replied.
The team uses the island's natural resources for power, with plenty of backups in case one fails.
"For our city we used green powers," explained Jacob Wilkes. "There's low to no waste. We use wind turbine energy, we use solar energy, and we use tidal wave generator energy."
A tidal wave generator uses the ocean's current to push turbines. The faster the waves come in, the more electricity gets generated.
Transportation is another element necessary in every city. Many of the future cities use various forms of small aerodynamic vehicles.
"For transportation we have bubble cars, cars in the shape of bubbles, that run on carbon fiber roads, which recharge the cars. They are all self-driving. They are controlled in a control tower. All traffic is monitored by the control tower as well," said Joe Rebhan, also from St. Andrew's.
The planning and construction of the project took place after school with a team of eight volunteers, who made some tough decisions.
"I learned a lot of teamwork during this time," said Rebhan. "We argued, but this was how we learned to be dependent. We had to come to work on the city, then we had to find ways to incorporate all of our ideas into one city. It's hard, but in the end, when you get this awesome city, you get this big sigh of relief."
Along with a team trophy, St. Andrew's received $500 for its efforts.
"This was our first year ever doing Future Cities. I was very surprised that we even got in the top five, said Wilkes. "This is something that I never thought would happen and was very excited when it did."
Other schools included DeSales Catholic in Lockport, which used Cleveland's proximity to Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River to power the Ohio city.
"Since Cleveland has a lot of pollution problems, we decided to make it a safer, cleaner city. So, instead of using coal and oil and fossil fuels, we decided to use hydro power and solar panels to lesson pollution," explained Elizabeth Swartz. "It's realistic. With modern-day technology, it's really quite possible for this to become a real thing some day. We took some modern day ideas and stuff that they're actually trying to do, and incorporate it so that it actually happens. They are coming up with ways to have hydro-powered cars and they also have solar panels."
St. Christopher School in Tonawanda turned Atlanta into Peachwick and even created self-driving Peach-shaped cars, specially designed with the needs of the elderly in mind.
"People who have disabilities or are sight-impaired can travel. Engineers monitor them so you are physically not driving. It's safer for everyone," said Alex Grapes.
Mary Quinn of St. Mary School in Swormville received a $500 Women in Science scholarship to Mount St. Mary Academy, host of this year's competition. St. Peter School in Lewiston and St. Joseph University School in Buffalo, also competed.
Celebrating 25 years, Future City is one of the nation's leading engineering education programs and has received national recognition and acclaim for its role in encouraging middle schoolers to develop interest in engineering and math courses.