Future City competition inspires next-gen interest in city design

Power Players: A team of students from Austin, TX-based West Ridge Middle School took first prize in the 2017 Future Competition, themed The Power of Public Space. At right back row is ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei, one of contest’s jurors.

The future of cities worldwide lies in young, developing minds and the concepts today’s youth will someday implement to address issues such as mass urbanization.

Last week’s National Engineers Week, extending from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21, marked the 25th anniversary Future City’s urban design competition, with Austin, TX-based West Ridge Middle School capturing top prize. The competition encourages enterprise sponsors to engage middle-school students in real-world design challenges.

Among other features, the winning entry, named “Sociecity,” included several public spaces, in addition to a mechanized transportation system and fountain, all in accordance with this year’s theme, The Power of Public Space.

In addition to a trophy, the grand prize includes a trip to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, AL, and $7,500 for the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program, provided by finals sponsor Bentley Systems. Engineer and contractor Bechtel also served as a competition sponsor.

Who’s involved?

This year’s competition engaged more than 40,000 middle-school students from 1,350 schools in 37 U.S. regions, in addition to students heralding from Canada, China and Middle East. The program called upon teams guided by teachers and mentors to execute SimCity software to design a virtual city, compose a 1,500-word essay describing their discoveries and innovations, and implement recyclable materials to construct a scale model of their city to accompany presentations their entries. The three-to-four month project culminated in regional finals in January that narrowed the field of contenders to 43 teams.

And those contenders were especially strong this year, according to ASCE 2017 President Norma Jean Mattei, one of five judges that determined the winner. “These kids just astound me –the poise they have in answering questions,” she told reporters.

Winning Moment: Along with project mentor and engineer Nick Samsa (far right), students participating in the West Ridge Middle Schools entry revel in the news their project has taken first place.

and the winner is…

Students involved in West Ridge Middle School’s winning entry included Emma Tyler, Hunter Samra, Tiffany Samra, Katelyn Yu, Raunakk Chandoke, Dylan Deyhimi, Orion Mather and Jonny Sheffield. Carol Reese is the team’s teacher, with Nick Samsa, a professional engineer, serving as team mentor on the entry.

Among other West Ridge Middle School participants, the Samra siblings and Tyler traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to present the submission to a panel of judges that included members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Following their win, the trio discussed Society’s origins, with Hunter Samra explaining to reporters, “We talked a lot about what a public space was, and all started brainstorming ideas.”

“We also started bringing in recycled materials and thinking about what each one could be in our city, in our model,” Tyler elaborated “And then from there, we decided what our public spaces should be.”

“And we also started really early with a bunch of prototypes of all of our moving parts and we really worked hard on that,” added Tiffany Samra.

““These kids just astound me –the poise they have in answering questions.””

— Norma Jean Mattei, 2017 ASCE President

Future City has gained national renown for its efforts to inspire interest among middle schoolers in STEM. In 2016, the Future City Competition received the Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction, presented by Turner Construction Co. and the National Building Museum.

Future City has indicated its program encourages students to apply math and science concepts to real-world issues; develop writing, public speaking, problem solving and time management skills; research and propose solutions to engineering challenges; discover different types of engineering and explore careers options; learn how their communities work and become better citizens; develop strong time management and project management skills; and experience synergy.

As demonstrated by last week’s event, the results speak for themselves.


Learn more about the Future City competition in the video above.