Build­ing fu­ture cities

Mid­dle-school­ers’ mod­els con­front real-world prob­lems.

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Olivia Harlow ohar­[email protected]­i­can.com

Diego Rael peered down at the al­mostfin­ished model of Kaze Mizu. He and his team­mates at Nina Otero Com­mu­nity School had used chop­sticks to cre­ate pro­pel­lers of a wind­mill in this fu­tur­is­tic city. They built a mega­tower out of a card­board box wrapped in trans­par­ent sheets ex­tracted from a key­board. The tower, they said, would con­vert both wind and wa­ter into elec­tric­ity to power the ocean­side city.

In the nearby ocean, they in­stalled a tracker to help de­tect nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes.

The group of five sixth- through eighth-grade boys build­ing the Kaze Misu model were among 18 mid­dle school stu­dents from Nina Otero Com­mu­nity School — and more than 300 from across New Mex­ico — who par­tic­i­pated in the Fu­ture City Com­pe­ti­tion on Satur­day in Al­bu­querque.

The in­no­va­tive sci­ence project en­cour­ages mid­dle-school­ers around the globe to en­vi­sion fu­tur­is­tic com­mu­ni­ties to ad­dress real-world prob­lems and show­case mod­els of their vi­sions that pro­pose so­lu­tions.

Cost for ma­te­ri­als for the 3-D city mod­els can be no more than $100, and stu­dents are en­cour­aged to use re­cy­cled items.

“We want to save our planet for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” said Nina Otero sixth-grader Alexan­der Du­ran, who helped cre­ate Kaze Mizu, a Toky­obased city plan whose name means “wind wa­ter” in Ja­panese.

This year’s theme for Fu­ture City was “Pow­er­ing Our Fu­ture,” chal­leng­ing kids to de­sign a power grid re­silient to any nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

The two other projects cre­ated by Nino Otero stu­dents were Big Dam City, in which elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by a cen­tral dam pow­ers the area, and Ma­halo, a Hawaii-based is­land that uses clear ti­ta­nium domes — strong enough to with­stand lava

and tsunamis — to pro­tect its res­i­dents.

The Big Dam City crew in­te­grated a moun­tain bunker for un­der­ground wa­ter stor­age, while Ma­halo cre­ators used a clear tube around the ex­te­rior of their is­land to fil­ter and re­cy­cle wa­ter from the ocean.

At Ohkay Owingeh Com­mu­nity School, 16 six­th­graders worked to cre­ate Fu­tur­is­tic City, said their teacher, Pamela Chavez. The hy­po­thet­i­cal Texas city, she said, uses re­cy­cled CDs to rep­re­sent so­lar pan­els and Plex­i­glas build­ings that mon­i­tor ground vi­bra­tions to de­tect in­com­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, she said last week, the stu­dents would have a mov­ing wind tur­bine com­pleted by Satur­day’s com­pe­ti­tion.

Or­ga­niz­ers said about 40,000 stu­dents world­wide are tak­ing part in this year’s event. In New Mex­ico, 35 teams from 16 schools were en­rolled. First-place teams from each re­gion will be awarded air­fare and ac­com­mo­da­tions to com­pete as fi­nal­ists in Fe­bru­ary in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

In the New Mex­ico com­pe­ti­tion, or­ga­niz­ers an­nounced late Satur­day that a group from An­nun­ci­a­tion Catholic School in Al­bu­querque that built a model of a city called Citta Forte was the fi­nal­ist.

But for Jeri Lyn Salazar, Nino Otero’s gifted education co­or­di­na­tor, Fu­ture City wasn’t about win-

ning; it was about en­cour­ag­ing kids to cri­tique current cli­mate is­sues and brain­storm so­lu­tions.

“They’re re­ally con­cerned about the en­vi­ron­ment,” she said. “They want to leave the world a bet­ter place for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Yet, go­ing green wasn’t the only pri­or­ity. Stu­dents also em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of clean­li­ness, in­clu­sion and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

Ytzel Romo, 13, said her Big Dam City team wanted to en­sure there were trol­leys for dis­abled mem­bers of the town and a home­less shel­ter that wasn’t iso­lated from other in­sti­tu­tions. Kaze Mizu’s Rael, 12, said the Ja­panese city of­fers a rep­til­ian an­i­mal sanc­tuary and a qual­ity med­i­cal cen­ter.

Chavez said Fu­ture City was a way to test her stu­dents’ imag­i­na­tions while also get­ting the kids out­side of their rou­tine.

“These stu­dents come to a com­mu­nity school and live in the pue­blo,” she said. “It’s a whole new ex­pe­ri­ence for them to see other cul­tures and how other peo­ple work. … It opens up a whole new world for them be­yond what they’re used to here.”

This was also true for other Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dents com­pet­ing this year, said Amy Sun, the regional co­or­di­na­tor for Fu­ture City, adding there were a record num­ber of Na­tive Amer­i­can stu­dents com­pet­ing in New Mex­ico. At least four schools were en­rolled, and two of them — Ohkay Owingeh and Mescalero Apache School — took part in the com­pe­ti­tion.

Chavez said the project re­vealed a wide ar­ray of po­ten­tial jobs her stu­dents might want to pur­sue. For ex­am­ple, she said, many of those who en­joy video games have ex­pressed in­ter­est in be­com­ing gam­ing en­gi­neers.

Salazar agreed, say­ing Fu­ture City is a way for kids to think about an un­known fu­ture and “pre­pare for jobs that don’t yet ex­ist.”

From con­cept to tan­gi­ble re­sults, Salazar said her stu­dents spent about 45 hours, be­gin­ning in Septem­ber, pre­par­ing for Satur­day’s com­pe­ti­tion. The process, she said, in­volved re­search­ing, writ­ing a 1,500-word es­say, cre­at­ing a vir­tual model us­ing Sim City soft­ware and con­struct­ing the city mod­els.

From start to fin­ish, she said, the kids were able to learn about team­work, time man­age­ment and, of course, sci­ence. By the end, they were able to “back up their fu­tur­is­tic ideas” with sound re­search, Salazar added.

Many stu­dents work­ing on the project said they don’t feel safe in the world or op­ti­mistic about its fu­ture.

Naomi Ro­driguez, a Nina Otero sixth-grader who worked on Ma­halo, said, “Our world right now isn’t the best place.” The project, she said, al­lowed her to hope for some­thing more.

“We got to use our imag­i­na­tion and cre­ate a world as we’d like to see it,” Diego added.

An­gel Aguirre Mi­ra­montes, from left, works with Ni­cholas Martinez and Kory Wa­gener to cre­ate Big Dam City on Wed­nes­day. The three are a part of a team of eighth-graders that com­peted Satur­day in the Fu­ture City Com­pe­ti­tion in Al­bu­querque.

PHO­TOS BY OLIVIA HARLOW/THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

Nino Otero Com­mu­nity School sixth-graders Wilmer Mi­randa, right, and Diego Rael work on their Kaze Mizu Fu­ture City project Wed­nes­day.

Alexan­der Du­ran, 11, adds re­cy­cled key­board keys to his team’s Kaze Mizu city model.

ABOVE: A view of Big Dam City, one of the Fu­ture City projects cre­ated by Nino Otero Com­mu­nity School stu­dents. A view of Big Dam City, one of the Fu­ture City projects cre­ated by Nino Otero Com­mu­nity School stu­dents.

PHO­TOS BY OLIVIA HARLOW THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

LEFT: Mem­bers of Kaze Mizu paint their city model and add trans­par­ent sheets from the inside of a re­cy­cled key­board to their model.

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