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Middle schoolers compete to produce cities of future

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 4:38 a.m.

De Las Cenizas -- Spanish for "from the ashes" -- is the new name for Los Angeles and Long Beach in the year 2161. The two cities are undergoing a revival, after years of population decline.

"Los Angeles now has the worst air pollution in the country and water shortages, so it eventually gets depopulated. Then it gets repopulated, and the city's energy is supplied by artificial photosynthesis and hydrogen fuel cells," said Alma Bartnik, 13, and an eighth grader at the Ellis School in Shadyside.

Ellis won the Pittsburgh Regional Future Cities Competition for its design of this city of the future. The competition, held on Saturday at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, had 18 schools participating. Twenty-four schools had been entered in the competition, but because of the weather, which saw up to 6 inches of snow on the region, six schools could not attend.

The first-place team from the regional competition wins a trip to Washington to compete in the national finals during National Engineers Week in February. Last year, the Ellis school won the regional competition and placed 19th out of 36 schools in the national competition.

The cities displayed in the competition were planned and designed by students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The design and structure of the cities usually relies on lots of imagination and forward thinking.

Students from the Verna Montessori School in Mt. Pleasant, designed Cipango, the name Marco Polo used for Japan. They received a second-place finish.

The Japanese city of the future is powered by energy released from earthquakes.

"A 9.0 earthquake releases billions and billions of megawatts. In 200 years, it will be possible to store that energy," said Michelle Karabin, 13 and an eighth grader at Verna.

This year's Future Cities competition included six schools that never before participated.

Students from one of them, the North Side's Manchester Academic Charter School, built Mustang City, a Western Pennsylvania town 150 years from now. It includes solar powered buildings made from silicon fiber and a water treatment plant that is under the town's soccer field.

"It took us about three months to do this. It was a lot of work," said Noah Fitzpatrick, 12 and a seventh grader.

The students' efforts impressed many adults involved with the event.

"We are stunned by how creative and detailed these projects are. There is a lot of passion and interest from Middle School students," said Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM programs -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- at Carnegie Science Center, one of the event's sponsors.

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