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Middle school students design tomorrow's cities

Jan. 8, 2014

From flying saucers to hydrogen-powered cars to hyperloops, Longfellow and Whitman middle school students are designing the cities of tomorrow.

More than 40 three-to-four person teams have been challenged to come up with future transportation ideas and map out a model city in the Future City competition.

Each Wauwatosa middle school has three teams that will compete in the regional finals at Milwaukee School of Engineering on Jan. 18. This is the second year Wauwatosa School District students have competed in the program, sponsored by DiscoverE, a group of professional and technical societies and U.S. corporations.

The Wauwatosa students are charged with three tasks: create a virtual city and develop it over 50 years using the video game Sim City 4, design a futuristic mode of transportation and build a 2-foot-by-4-foot model showcasing that future transportation using mainly recycled materials.

Hyperloops

The Back to the Future city, created by two sixth- and two seventh-grade students from Whitman, called for hyperloops to transport the people of tomorrow.

Their version of a hyperloop is a three- to four-person pod propelled by air through a tube. Their model city uses two syringes to push a wooden rod around tubes in the city.

After seeing the idea for real hyperloops in development on the West Coast, the group decided to run with the idea. While installing the loops required drilling, threading and dealing with air bubbles, seventh-grade student Gabby Bree said it was best to design the city around the transportation.

This is her second year designing a metropolis for the competition, and she learned from last year to build the city around the challenge.

"Judges need to know within 30 seconds of seeing the city what the transportation solution is," volunteer mentor Jerry Merz said. He added the Back to the Future group's simple city made the design stand out.

The hardest challenge to overcome for the group, however, was working together. The group members had a difference of opinion about what the design should be. But in the end, seventh-grade student Abby Fuchs said, they all chipped in a little and made one building each.

More than transportation

The teams not only dreamed up new ways to get around, they learned about the inner-workings of cities.

Merz brought in many guest speakers throughout the competition including Wauwatosa City Engineer Bill Wehrley, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee architect Carolyn Esswein, who worked on downtown Wauwatosa improvements, and Steve Amour from We Energies.

The speakers taught students how transportation impacts the infrastructure, energy and design needs of a city.

"The main idea is for students to see the big picture and not that they live in a house in the community," Whitman teacher Valerie Klika said. "They've learned during the whole process that it's so much more than that."

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