For the past 5 months, a group of visionaries has been working on proposals that would enable future seniors in urban environments to be as active and independent as they’d like.

By Pam McDonald

For the past 5 months, a group of visionaries has been working on proposals that would enable future seniors in urban environments to be as active and independent as they’d like. Below are just a few of the many ideas pitched.

Proposals for Making Cities Better for Seniors

  • Compact communities that include essential services for seniors within walking distance; smart homes that track physiological changes; GPS-enabled shoes and clothes as well as other wearable biosensors; and cohousing where students get accommodations in exchange for assisting senior roommates.

  • Soft, stretchy exo-skeletons, much like wearable robots, for extra strength and endurance that are made from the city’s agricultural products and recycled material and paired with suction shoes allowing wearers to stay mobile, balanced, active, and independent.

  • Intergenerational Complexes for Education (I.C.E.) that combine retirement facilities and schools. Each complex has its own specialty, such as engineering, culinary, computer sciences, etc., and retirees can choose to live in a complex where they can share their expertise and knowledge with younger generations in classrooms, special events, and routine daily interactions.

These ingenious ideas are even more awe-inspiring because they come from middle-school students ages 11, 12, and 13 who competed in the most recent Future Cities Competition concluded this past February.

Engaging Young People in Engineering to Make the World A Better Place

The competition is coordinated by DiscoverE, a nonprofit organization that encourages and guides volunteer efforts and resources into sustaining and growing a dynamic engineering profession.

According to Maggie Dressel, DiscoverE’s Future Cities Program Manager, the contest is designed to engage students – with support from parents, educators, and mentors – in hands-on engineering experiences that are authentic and make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts relevant.

Growing in reach and popularity, this year’s competition was its 26th. Past themes included stormwater management, urban agriculture, and green energy. About 40,000 students took part this year – 44 U.S. regions fielded teams and were joined by entrants from Canada, China, and Egypt. Significantly 49% of entrants were girls, although girls are not specifically targeted.

Contest Deliverables

Here’s what participating student teams are expected to deliver during the 4- to 5-months of the contest:

  1. A virtual city design (using Electronic Arts “SimCity” software)

  2. A 1,500-word essay about the future city

  3. A scale model

  4. A project plan and

  5. A presentation to the regional judges

The Engineering Design Process

Participants are mentored in and given an opportunity to practice the “engineering design process” (enumerated below) while developing their cities and at least two problem-solving innovations.

The Engineering Design Process:

  • Identifying problems

  • Brainstorming ideas

  • Designing solutions

  • Testing and retesting plans

  • Building models

  • Sharing results

Team Building Through Project Management Skills

And, because teamwork is essential to any project’s success, students are versed in the stages and skills of Project Management, as follows:

  1. Defining Stage – setting goals, budgets, and due dates.

  2. Planning Stage – scheduling, assigning tasks and roles, and identifying materials needed. (Students are reminded that while plans help them meet deadlines, they should remain flexible because “things happen”.)

  3. Doing Stage – actually doing the required work; that is creating, building, and fixing whatever the project needs and tracking progress. (Students are coached in communications skills, which are required at every step.)

  4. The Review Stage – looking over the project once its complete while keeping an open mind.

Teaching Complex Skills Needed by Socially Responsible Citizens Now and in the Future

Maggie points out that this cross-curricular program offers coaching and practice in educational subjects as well as complex skills needed for social responsibility, including:

  • Math

  • Science

  • Art

  • Research

  • Writing

  • Public Speaking

  • Problem Solving

  • Civics

  • City Planning

  • Teamwork

Maggie calls the Future Cities Competition “transformative”, noting that students come away with knowledge and life skills needed for the 21st century. She says, “The program empowers them, gives them greater confidence, and is preparing them to be good, active citizens.”

Are Senior Living Leaders Smarter Than Sixth Graders?

Senior living could take a page out of DiscoverE’s book; in fact, they could use the entire 100-page Program Handbook. It sets out a detailed framework for project planning, including processes, schedules, guidelines, and benchmarks. The industry could use this model to begin solving one its intractable problems – building sustainable affordable senior housing.

Anyone ready to take up the challenge?

You can download the Handbook here.