Stu­dents de­sign fu­tur­is­tic cities where se­nior cit­i­zens thrive, age with grace

STEM com­pe­ti­tion of­fers fake cities, but real is­sue

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Rick Bar­rett Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

Imag­ine the city of Amanecer, which in Span­ish trans­lates to “dawn.” It’s far into the fu­ture, and while this city is fic­ti­tious, it has solved prob­lems that real ur­ban ar­eas face now, in 2018, re­gard­ing an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Lo­cated in the moun­tains of Colom­bia, Amanecer is a city with nearly 20% of its pop­u­la­tion over the age of 65.

The side­walks have a “re­spected” lane for cit­i­zens with mo­bil­ity is­sues.

Re­frig­er­a­tors, stoves, cab­i­nets and dish­wash­ers are all ro­botic and eas­ily adapt to their user. There are com­pan­ion ro­bots that in­ter­act with old peo­ple through different per­son­al­i­ties.

The el­derly can visit a nostal­gia vil­lage that shows old movies and has other ameni­ties rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing from a mod­ern world.

This imag­i­nary city is 2,220 miles from Milwaukee, says its co-cre­ator, Anya Ranft, a stu­dent at Longfel­low Mid­dle School in Wauwatosa.

Yet, in some ways, it could be a glimpse into our fu­ture and an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

Amanecer uses ac­tiv­i­ties, and a sense of com­mu­nity, to pro­vide se­niors with an en­vi­ron­ment that is both nos­tal­gic and mod­ern, Ranft said.

Satur­day, Ranft and about 250 other mid­dle-school stu­dents from around the state un­veiled mod­els of fu­tur­is­tic cities that solve age-re­lated prob­lems.

The event at Milwaukee School of En­gi­neer­ing’s Kern Cen­ter rep­re­sented months of work by 66 teams of stu­dents from 32 schoolsvy­ing for the chance to com­pete in a na­tional event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in Fe­bru­ary.

The five fi­nal­ists in the Wis­con­sin com­pe­ti­tion were Longfel­low Mid­dle School in Wauwatosa, Glen Hills Mid­dle School in Glendale, St. Alphonsus School in Green­dale, St. An­thony on the Lake School in Pe­wau­kee and For­est Park Mid­dle School in Franklin.

The win­ner was St. Alphonsus, which will go to the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

In its 26th year, the Fu­ture City Com­pe­ti­tion in­cludes more than 40,000 stu­dents from 1,350 schools na­tion­wide. There are a grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tional teams, too.

It’s an op­por­tu­nity for mid­dle-school stu­dents to en­vi­sion the fu­ture as they de­velop their sci­ence, technology, en­gi­neer­ing and math skills.

Deal­ing with an el­derly pop­u­la­tion is the theme of this year’s com­pe­ti­tion, said Kelly Wesolowski, pro­gram man­ager for STEM For­ward Inc., a Milwaukee-based group that pro­motes sci­ence, technology, en­gi­neer­ing and math ca­reers.

As the baby-boomer pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow old, “what are we go­ing to do for older adults? There are so many chal­lenges. It’s kind of neat to see what these kids have come up with,” she said.

Work­ing with a teacher and a men­tor in the STEM fields, the stu­dents built ta­ble-top city mod­els from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. They also had to write a 1,500word es­say and present their idea for a fu­tur­is­tic city to a panel of six judges.

One of the plans in­cor­po­rated is­lands in the At­lantic Ocean where peo­ple could live a health­ier life.

“Even­tu­ally we, as a hu­man race, will run out of space on just nor­mal con­ti­nents. If we are able to uti­lize space that the ocean pro­vides, we could live on earth for a bit longer,” said Cassie Kowal­ski, a But­ler Mid­dle School stu­dent.

Some of the other cities the stu­dents de­signed had flying cars and ul­tra-fast pub­lic trans­porta­tion cov­er­ing miles in sec­onds.

“The im­pact of trans­porta­tion on se­niors is huge. Most older adults can’t drive or have trou­ble get­ting in and out of the car, which makes them less so­cially and phys­i­cally ac­tive be­cause they can’t get around the city,” one team of stu­dents wrote in its es­say.

“Our walls have mo­tion sen­sors, and when they sense a se­nior com­ing, they move so that there is more space. Our stairs turn into ramps so that se­niors can get around any build­ing,” the team from For­est Park Mid­dle School wrote.

In that fu­tur­is­tic city, the av­er­age life­span is 101 and you wouldn’t be con­sid­ered a se­nior un­til you were 80, due to ad­vances in med­i­cal technology.

The city, named Con­sone, has bright­col­ored houses since bright colors have been proven to boost peo­ple’s mood. In an­other city, in­stead of stairs, there are tilted, mov­ing ramps.

One city has ro­bots equipped with games, video chats and smoke de­tec­tors. The ro­bots will even de­tect ill­nesses, pre­scribe med­i­ca­tions and take blood tests.

“The city also pro­vides free health­care so that peo­ple have med­i­cal help when­ever it’s needed,” the stu­dents from Glen Hills Mid­dle School wrote.

Many of the de­signs in­cluded fu­tur­is­tic technology, such as a power sys­tem that taps into heat from the bow­els of the earth, holo­grams that serve as class­room teach­ers and ver­ti­cal gar­dens 40 sto­ries tall.

“All of this is in the fu­ture, so it doesn’t have to be com­pletely fea­si­ble,” Wesolowski said.

In one of the cities, 3-D print­ers would cre­ate re­place­ment body or­gans.

One city com­bines a se­nior cen­ter with a child day care cen­ter, giv­ing se­niors in­volve­ment with chil­dren, while kids with­out grand­par­ents would have an older per­son in their lives.

A de­sign from stu­dents at Golda Meir School in Milwaukee is for a city half un­der wa­ter.

“You could watch the fish swim by. We think that would help calm peo­ple if they need surgery or some­thing,” said stu­dent Eve­lyn Von­dre.

In Amanecer, younger adults would live with the el­derly to sup­port and help them. And if young teens wanted to move out of the house early, se­nior cit­i­zens could sup­port them and serve as parental fig­ures.

The way for Amanecer to solve prob­lems linked to age is to un­der­stand them from an older per­son’s eyes, Ranft and team­mate Sylvi Te­ich said about their plan.


Judges David Sch­legel (left) and Jef­frey LeMack eval­u­ate a pre­sen­ta­tion by Sylvi Te­ich (back­ground right) and Anya Ranft dur­ing Dis­cov­erE's Fu­ture City Com­pe­ti­tion on Satur­day at the Kern Cen­ter on the cam­pus of the Milwaukee School of En­gi­neer­ing. They girls are stu­dents at Longfel­low Mid­dle School in Wauwatosa.

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