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January 09, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Students build the cities of the future

The competition will take place on Saturday, January 20.

Imagine this: a future city in Italy that is fully operated through solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy. All the activities in this city are run on 100 percent renewable energy, with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

This sustainable future is envisioned by a middle school student named Anderson Vasquez Francisco at Northwest Middle School in Knox County.

Tracy Anderson is his teacher for honors STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This school year, she has led more than a dozen students through a project to create six “future cities” for the annual Future City Competition, sponsored by LDA Engineering.

For this year’s competition, 33 school districts are represented across Tennessee and Mississippi. Knox County is just one of them.

This year’s challenge asked students to build a fully electric-powered city with energy generated from sources that keep the environment healthy. The city could be located anywhere, as long as the power sources were reasonable for the area.

Future City Competition 2023

For example, pulling energy from Ocean waves in Minnesota isn’t likely to be a probable solution. However, in Bora Bora, hydropower is more plausible.

Also, students needed to come up with a story about how their city came into existence and present it at the competition.

“It’s all about the learning experience. It’s all about the STEM immersion, being creative, and learning some new skills,” Anderson said.

Mackenzie Martin, with LDA Engineering, said the competition is always a lot of fun. LDA Engineering has been a proud supporter of the Future City competition for years and has even made a $500,000 commitment to STEM education, $120,00 of which will be engineering scholarships. They hope to reach this goal by 2030.

Future City is one of several initiatives for LDA Engineering to pledge its support for STEM and young people. The firm estimated that more than 3,500 students have been impacted by its efforts so far.

“It’s really encouraging and really rewarding to see the students. They’re usually proud of their work,” Martin said. “I feel like at that age, everybody dreams of a future that’s better than what we have. They think about how they can make it better, especially at that age, you just think you could change the world.”

Martin said Future City is intentional about awarding students who work hard. While it may be competitive to win the top prize, there are also awards for Rookie of the Year, Best Moving Part, People’s Choice, Best Visualization, Best Residential Zone, Outstanding Essay, and many more.

“It’s a great experience for them,” Anderson said. “One year, I even had a student say he wanted to grow up and be a city planner. He just really liked the whole process.”

This year’s group of students is about a week away from presenting their final projects. We spoke with a few of them about the lessons learned over the school year.

Vasquez Francisco said he has learned how to better collaborate with his classmates. He has a few other people working on building the city in Italy with him.

“It has taught me leadership and how to be patient with others who may not work at the same speed as me. I feel like that’s a valuable lesson to have as a person in society,” he said.

Another student in the class, Amelia Reisner is building a future city based in Southern Spain. She said communication has been a key part of designing her city.

“Collaboration is a really big thing for me because if you don’t listen to new ideas, you’re not going to know what anybody else wants, and your city is not going to do well,” Reisner said.

The competition is set for Saturday, January 20.

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