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 Leslie Streicher/MEDILL

Students, teachers and engineers gathered for the regional Future City Competition at University of Illinois at Chicago Saturday.  St. Paul of the Cross School from Park Ridge won a trip to D.C. to compete at nationals in February.   

Students restore devastated cities in UIC competition

by Leslie Streicher
Jan 19, 2010

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Leslie Streicher/MEDILL

St. Paul of the Cross presents their winning city, Celedon, to judges. Sustainable engineering resurrected the city after a devastating mudslide. 

A mudslide left Celedon, an Australian city, in economic despair. Houses were demolished; power lines were torn down and trees were turned into toothpicks. Thousands of people were left without energy, food, water and shelter. 

The future looked bleak. 

But then a stronger city emerged from the rubble as a beacon of hope, life and environmentalism for the tired citizens. Wind turbines were erected, solar panels installed and water-rich energy systems established. 

Paradise was restored.    

This wasn't Port-Au-Prince. Celedon is not a real city and no one lost anything in a mudslide. The revived city was the brainchild of middle school students at St. Paul of the Cross School in Park Ridge showing how to rebuild sustainable housing after a natural disaster.

The students combined green technology and basic engineering to design an eco-friendly and viable future community to compete at the regional Future City Competition at University of Illinois at Chicago on Saturday.

And they won. 

“The students created sustainable, dome housing in former fields that are close to the city to house victims of the mudslide,” said Laurie Moran, a computer teacher at St. Paul who moderated the team.

Students also gave Celedon a wind turbine with photovoltaics, which combined into a double-whammy of clean wind and solar power. There is also an ample amount of fresh water to source hydrogen fuel cells. 

“After the mudslide, sustainable energy will help to rebuild its economy,” Moran said. 

St. Paul walked away with first place after beating out 18 other teams for a spot at nationals in Washington, D.C., in February. 

“It was really a great team effort,” Moran said. 

And it’s no coincidence the students named it Celedon. 

“It is a shade of green,” Moran said. “The students thought it sounded pretty cool.” 

Each team participating in the competition had to design a city on SimCity 4 Deluxe that could exist 150 years in the future. Factors such as citizens’ life expectancy, construction of industrial and residential centers, and use of alternative energy sources were integral to the blueprint. 

“It is such a good exposure for children to see some of the issues of public administration,” Moran said. “It has children acting as mayor.” 

Teams also had to write an essay about how to build sustainable housing for people displaced by a natural disaster. 

On competition day, teams hauled intricate, 3-D models to the UIC campus conceptualizing four months of in-depth planning. Most of the models were made out of recycled materials. 

“Each team has a budget of $100 to build their model,” said Don Wittmer, a civil engineer and coordinator of the regional competition. “This makes sure every school is on a level playing field.” 

St. Paul’s final presentation detailing surf culture and green living in edenic Celedon won over the judges who sent the team to nationals. 

“This is just pretty amazing right now,” said Ben Paolelli, a 7th grader at St. Paul and one of three presenters for the team. “I nearly had a heart attack [when we won].” 

Engineers established the competition about 18 years ago to promote an interest in engineering sciences in middle school children. The finals are held in conjunction with National Engineers’ Week. But with competition aside, Wittmer said the program has a larger goal. 

“We are really using this as a tool to recruit engineers,” he said. “The reason why we start at middle school is so when they get to high school they can take the math and science required to study engineering in college.”