Cape Town: design as vehicle for change

24 January 2014

Cape Town is gearing up to take full advantage of its status as World Design Capital in 2014. With more than 450 officially recognised projects and hundreds of open events, it’s going to be a busy year for the city’s residents. But what does the title mean for the city, a victim of old-style apartheid urban planning and one marked by historical divides?

What is World Design Capital?

Every two years, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) selects a World Design Capital in recognition of a city’s efforts to use design for social, cultural and economic development.

It is not a conventional design competition, but rather about design in its broadest sense, and about designing better cities for people.

The title gives Cape Town a chance to showcase its achievements and aspirations through a year-long programme of design-led events and activities.

“A World Design Capital is not a status designator, rather a state of being,” the ICSID judges say. “It is defined by the commitment that a city has made to use design to reinvent itself. Sustainable results or a commitment to develop the city are visible and a changing attitude is detectable.”

Previous “title holders” are Turin (2008), Seoul (2010) and Helsinki (2012).

The ICSID is an international non-governmental organisation established in 1957 that aims to protect and promote the profession of industrial design.

Why did Cape Town win?

Cape Town won the 2014 bid against fierce competition from rival shortlisted cities, Bilbao and Dublin. It is the first African city to do so.

In its favour was that the city’s bid was not about Cape Town claiming that it was already an established design capital, but instead acknowledged that it is using “design thinking” as a tool for transformation.

The city’s theme – “Live Design. Transform Life” – focuses on the role that design can play in social transformation in the city. Cape Town has considerable design resources that can be directed towards addressing the legacies of the city’s apartheid past, especially at dealing with the vast imbalances that exist in the society.

Projects included are those that bridge historic divides, reconnect the city in structure and in spirit, rebuild social and economic inclusion, and reposition Cape Town for a sustainable future.

“Design needs humanity: it needs to offer real solutions for real problems,” Martin Darbyshire of the ICSID said. “Cape Town has demonstrated a deep understanding of this in its in bid by using the World Design Capital to change the legacy of design in its city. Social transformation precedes economic transformation and Cape Town put design in the centre of the solution for social transformation.”

Who is Cape Town Design?

The City of Cape Town won the honour for 2014, and established Cape Town Design (CTD), a not-for-profit, independent implementing agency.

Cape Town Design is governed by an inclusive board made up of members from local and national government, key tertiary educational institutions, creative organisations within Cape Town and independent leaders in the broader design community.

The city is providing funding through a three-year grant to implement, run and wind down the 2014 programme. CTD has been tasked with raising additional funds through various private channels.

What does it all mean for Cape Town?

World Design Capital forms part of a broader vision to transform Cape Town – through design – into a sustainable, productive African city, bridging historic divides and building social and economic inclusion.

Cape Town will use the opportunity to identify, nurture and promote projects that offer tangible evidence of how design can improve lives.

As the first African city to be selected as World Design Capital, Cape Town will be a focal point for the international design community in 2014. It will use the spotlight to highlight the creativity of the city, country and continent through a year-long programme of events and projects.

The city will play host to a number of World Design Capital signature events during the year, including an international design exhibition, a design policy conference, and a design gala.

This will not only boost visitor numbers to the city, but will also create opportunities for the city’s creative community to get involved as exhibitors, speakers delegates, partners and suppliers.

World Design Capital 2014 will help reposition the Mother City as far more than a city of beauty and leisure tourism, but as a global innovator in socially transformative design.

“Now, in a milestone year when South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, Cape Town will become a proactive case study in using design-enabled thinking and practices to achieve a sustainable, inclusive and more liveable African city,” Cape Town Design says. “It will nurture designs that bridge historic divides, reconnect the city in structure and spirit, rebuild social and economic inclusion and reposition Cape Town for a better future.”

What can I look forward to?

By getting the city’s communities excited by and involved in the potential of World Design Capital 2014, creativity and design can be used to address and solve every day problems.

The City of Cape Town itself is also embedding design thinking into its organisational structures to plan for an increasingly urban future.

A dynamic programme of projects, activities and events has been put together under the theme, “Live Design. Transform Life”.

The programme has been divided into seven “clusters”: community upliftment, sustainability, education, lifestyle, business, transport and social cohesion.

Around 460 projects and initiatives have been selected to be part of the official programme.

SAinfo reporter. Sources: World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 and City of Cape Town