Urbana Middle School's Future City club building visions of tomorrow

Urbana Middle School's Future City club building visions of tomorrow

URBANA — If the 15 kids in Urbana Middle School's Future City club have any say, the future is going to be bright, eco-friendly and full of technological innovation.

Or at least that's what they hope to convince judges of today in Chicago, where they'll present models of the two "cities" two groups of them have spent four months planning and building from scratch.

The cities were constructed to meet program standards, which include emphasis on sustainability and, this year, senior-friendly living.

"I'm feeling great about the competition," said Future City coordinator Linda Larsen. "They're confident."

The students have spent about five to six hours a week since September working on the projects — designing and researching on Tuesdays and Thursdays and building the actual models on Saturdays.

Thursday was the team's final chance to deliver their presentations to an audience before today's competition.

As they stood in front of parents, teachers and friends, they explained how wind, sunlight and water would power their cities and how drones could fly and put out small fires or help with medical emergencies at remote locations until help arrived.

Eighth-grader Liam McLean told the audience about a sort of helmet his team had designed for firefighters to see bodies in buildings clouded with smoke.

"If you've seen Google Glass, it's like that, but better," McLean said.

McLean also helped his team explain smart concrete — a concept they designed to help seniors, or anyone prone to accidents, get up from a fall unscathed. Firm enough for regular standing and walking, the smart concrete they designed would absorb impact to minimize injury.

The students also focused on sustainability issues, powering their cities with wind, solar and hydropower. For seventh-grader Talha Coskun, who worked on developing his team's hydro-powered infrastructure, this meant a lot of tries, failures and trying again until it worked.

"We failed a lot," Coskun said. "I think model-building was the most fun. I definitely learned about how a city works."

On Thursday, students fielded questions from audience members, hoping the experience would prepare them for the serious judges they'll face today in Chicago.

One audience member noted that one city claimed a population of 750,000, but the city's hydropower system only powered 500,000 houses. A student piped up immediately: Their wind power system powered the other 250,000.

Another audience membered questioned whether a city could withstand flooding from natural disasters. But the students had already thought of that, too, they said, and pointed to the permeable pavement made for just such a problem.

Gabe Lowery, a sixth-grader who did research for his team, said he has mixed feelings about today's event.

"It's really exciting, but I'm just a little nervous," Lowery said.

If the UMS team wins, students would advance to nationals in Washington, D.C.

"I would really like to win, but if we win, there will be more work," McLean said.

Win or lose, Larsen said the club is more about learning than anything else.

"We're in it to do our best and have fun," she said.

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pattsi wrote on January 20, 2018 at 8:01 am

Hope Mayor Marlin will engage these future planners into the revamping of downtown Urbana.

pattsi wrote on January 20, 2018 at 8:01 am

Hope Mayor Marlin will engage these future planners into the revamping of downtown Urbana.