ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — A group of Round Rock ISD students are taking sustainability initiatives to new and futuristic heights, reimagining downtown Austin as a 100% green energy hub.

Cedar Valley Middle School’s Future City club built a model of downtown Austin 100 years into the future that outlines green initiatives the city can take to combat climate change. Their project won third place at a Texas Future City’s competition this year.

Future City is a middle school STEM program that allows students to tap into engineering skills to help develop sustainability practices. For 2023, the challenge to participating campuses was to help address climate change in cities.

It’s a program that features more than 45,000 students competing annually from schools in the United States, Canada, China, Egypt and Nigeria, per Future City.

For their project, Cedar Valley students constructed the model out of 100% recyclable materials, said Pooja Moondra, a 6th grade science teacher who oversees the club.

“We have lots of variations of building materials, from LEGO pieces to recycled materials,” team member Asher Coffman said. “It was just fun to see what we can use for the various and for the various parts of the city and be creative with how we expressed all of our features.”

The project included the following features:

  • Train, shuttle-based transportation systems
  • Mixed-use areas with walkways, bike lanes
  • Green energy-powered generators (solar panels, wave energy, solar glass)
  • Green park space in the city to help absorb carbon emissions
  • Live music, stadium-based entertainment spaces
  • Water conservation technology
  • Job hubs, including educational, legislative and tech-based spaces

Students told KXAN the city was specifically designed in a mixed-use setting so people could live and work in the same communities, minimizing the need to travel longer distances. The city-led electricity is provided through the 100% renewable energy resources, powering Austin without the use of natural gas, coal or other nonrenewable resources.

“We also needed many different sources of power, because what if it’s all windy for a day? What if it’s not sunny?” said team member Karshin Kalaisejiane.

Students said some of their favorite components behind the project included the collaborations within their clubmates to get the project off the ground, while tapping into their creative side for how to construct it.

From a competitive point, they added it was exciting to get to present on stage and take home third place. But beyond the thrill of earning a trophy, they said they hope projects like theirs can help others reflect on their own energy uses and ways they can minimize their carbon footprint.

“People could be more aware by just learning small things, like maybe picking up trash or recycling — taking the time to learn about climate change,” said team member Shreya Parekh.

“Without knowing, [people] will waste the energy in their homes,” added Arjun Ganesh. “Be aware of all your surroundings and what you’re doing.”