UT Future City

Emily Smith (left) and Kat Trout-Baron built a model of a future Chicago, which they called Maretum Urbs, as part of the Future City Competition.

Columb Higgins

PETERSBURG – Two Upper Township eighth-graders showed the school board Monday, Jan. 23 their vision of a future Chicago powered by the sun and wind, with the city’s “L” – elevated train – converted into a pedestrian path, and a large public market in the middle of town.

Emily Smith and Kat Trout-Baron worked on the project as part of the Future City Competition held earlier this month at the Livingston Campus Student Center at Rutgers University in Piscataway. The national competition asks students how they can make the world a better place, and challenges them to plan, design, and build cities of the future. The topic this year was “the Power of Public Space.”

Smith and Baron called their Chicago of 2031 “Maretum Urbs,” and said they had reduced crime, improved education, and increased access to health care there. Along with building a scale model of their city, they also had to write a 1,500-word essay and make a presentation to judges at the Jan. 14 competition. About 100 teams from New Jersey participated this year.

“We worked very hard,” Trout-Baron said at the Jan. 23 Upper Township Board of Education meeting. “We started in November.”

Students at the Upper Township Middle School made their first foray into the Future City Competition last year with the help of their advisor, librarian Matthew Maas. The seventh-grade group won the Best Newcomer Award. Maas also advised this year but was not able to attend the Jan. 23 meeting.

Smith said she and Trout-Baron met after school on Fridays to work on the project, and got together at her house the day before the competition to finalize the model. Trout-Baron thanked Smith’s parents, who let them use their garage to spray paint model buildings.

“We got spray paint all over the garage,” she said. One school board member said at least they didn’t get any in the living room. “I don’t know about that,” Trout-Baron said, laughing.

Trout-Baron said the team put a major emphasis on renewable energy sources this year. Every building in Maretum Urbs has solar panels on its roof, she said.

“I know the solar panels on top of my house are very efficient,” Trout-Baron said.

There were also wind turbines in the city. Their model city included a solar-powered, battery-operated wind turbine that met one of the goals of this year’s competition to include moving parts. The girls used a flashlight to power the solar panels, making the wind turbine spin.

Trout-Baron said that Maretum Urbs has replaced Chicago’s subway with a maglev train, which uses magnetic levitation to move vehicles. The trains are used in Japan and Europe, she said. The city’s elevated train has been turned into an elevated pedestrian walkway through the city, Trout-Baron said.

“There are no cars in Maretum Urbs,” she said. Major streets have been converted into markets and public spaces. Bicycles are parked and then stored underground so there is more room for parks, she said.

“Parks are shrinking because cities are growing,” Trout-Baron said.

School board president Michele Barbieri asked the girls what they thought was the biggest challenge facing future generations. Trout-Baron said climate change.

“We’re going to have to fix these problems for the generations after us,” she said. Trout-Baron said she is interested in pursuing a career in public policy or government.

“No place is perfect,” she said. “You want to do the best for everyone.”

More than 40,000 students across the country participated in the Future City Competition this year. The national championship is scheduled for Feb. 18-21 in Washington, D.C.

Stay informed! Sign up to receive top headlines from Cape May County delivered to your inbox.