Norristown Area School District students build cities of the future (Philadelphia)
As urban populations continue to grow and natural resources dwindle, city planners, engineers, and environmentalists point to a need to develop sustainable ways to fulfill the demand for more food in the future.
In the Norristown Area School District, 33 middle school students have already begun preparing to solve these issues by looking 150 years into the future and designing model cities with unique ways to feed the world’s population.
Starting in September, students from East Norriton Middle School, Eisenhower Science and Technology Leadership Academy, and Stewart Middle School began developing their ideas for the Future City Competition, sponsored by The National Engineers Week Foundation.
The competition brings together multiple subjects, including finance, engineering, environmental studies, construction, graphic design, public speaking, writing, math, and geometry. Students are required to research engineering topics related to city construction, create a model city using the Sim City computer game, and present a scale model created with recycled materials to a panel of judges. This year the competition’s focus is how to feed cities in the future.
“It’s been an amazing process,” said Victoria Strickland, teacher in the gifted program and East Norriton’s Future City team leader. “We had to change the scale a few times. “The students have done a really nice job thinking on their feet.”
Settling on a scale of 1 inch to 20 feet, East Norriton’s city, Fructus, is situated in southern California.
“All of our buildings have rooftop gardens. We only use solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy,” said Frankie Napoli, East Norriton seventh grader.
To provide food to Fructus’ citizens, the students chose to utilize hydroponic and aquaponic farms, which the students researched prior to building.
“We’re mainly going to grow arugula and kale because they have the highest nutritional value,” Napoli said, noting how aquaponic farms are self sustaining systems where plant matter decays into the water in which they grow. The decaying material feeds the fish that in turn provide the nutrients for the plants.
Each future city is supposed to produce a protein and a vegetable.
To aid in the students research, Strickland took the students on a field trip to the Greensgrow Farm in the Kensington Area of Philadelphia, which utilizes hydroponic farming to raise arugula and other products without soil.
“It was neat to go into a real city and see a farm,” she said. “They got to reach down, pick up a piece of arugula and stick it in their mouth.”
Damon McNeil, the gifted program teacher in charge of the Stewart and Eisenhower teams, used a similar real-life model to aid in the student’s learning.
Students watched videos of Chicago, built 150 years ago, and the engineering problems that came with building on swampland and the associated solutions for elevating sections of the city.
“They got to look at things from the perspective of future people looking back into the past,” McNeil said.
Surprisingly, McNeil noticed that both groups independently chose to build their cities in the Illinois area and to focus on how climate change will affect them.
“With climate change and radical weather we are going to have to look at different kinds of housing,” he said.
Eisenhower’s project, called SIR City, will produce potatoes and beef in a sustainable system designed to collect kinetic energy and reuse methane gas produced by the animals. SIR stands for Sustainable, Integrated and Renewable. Stewart’s city, The Citadel, will produce corn and soy because of their versatility.
Once the blueprints are made and building begins, the students utilize their artistic and practical problem solving skills in creating their visions for the future.
For Stewart student Jaeshon Rhodes, taking the model from blueprint to miniature buildings was rewarding.
“I liked making a replica of what we did in the game,” said Rhodes, who has plans to become a computer engineer in the future. “We made the farm separated from the industrial area to help decrease pollution.”
On Saturday, weather depending, the three teams will take their models to Archbishop John Carroll High School for the Philadelphia Regional Competition.
The first place winner moves on to the national competition in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week in February. The national winner gets a trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
The Philadelphia Regional Future City Competition is a 501(c)3 educational outreach program and is one of 40 regions in the Future City Competition.