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World Design Capital Signed and Sealed

The 29th of June was marked by a historic event, with Cape Town officially unveiled as the World Design Capital for 2014, a first for an African country. A signing ceremony was held at the Free World Design Centre with Western Cape Mayor Patricia de Lille and International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) President Soon-in Lee both putting pen to paper as final confirmation that the City of Cape Town will be bestowed with this prestigious title.

The World Design Capital is the brainchild of Icsid- an international NGO that aims to promote the profession of industrial design and to encourage cities to use design as a tool in propagating “social, economic and cultural development”. Previous cities to hold this title include Torino, Italy in 2008; Seoul, South Korea in 2010; and this year’s holder Helsinki in Finland.

For the 2014 accolade, Cape Town was initially announced as the winner late in 2011, seeing off the competition of both Bilbao in Spain and Dublin in Ireland. Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, the Managing Director of the Cape Town Partnership (the organisation mandated by the City of Cape Town to coordinate Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 bid) has repeatedly said that Cape Town had more to gain from the award than the “more established, more accessible, (and) more familiar” European cities. “Isn’t it time the title came down south, and saw the diversity and vibrancy of Africa?”, she added in an interview in September last year.

Similarly to the FIFA World Cup in 2010, many feel that the World Design Capital Award will reflect positively not only on Cape Town and South Africa but on the continent at large. It will also help both to retain local talent through giving them increased opportunities, incentives and exposure within the continent, and also to draw more substantial investment and input from the rest of the international community outside of Africa

With the slogan ‘Live Design. Transform Life’, Cape Town’s bid for the WDC was strongly based on the city’s increasing push to use design as a tool to facilitate significant social transformation and as a potentially innovative means by which to erase remaining traces of apartheid’s legacy of social separation, which has left Cape Town, even today, with what local architect Mokena Mokeka refers to as a geography of two extremes: “excess and lack of access”. With all this in mind, Mike Freedman of Freedthinkers, a research & strategy house, has said that innovation through design is not a “luxury” for Cape Town, “it’s a necessity”.

Among proposals in the 2014 bid book are the major overhaul and increased integration of Cape Town’s public transport services across the metropole and the creation of a new CBD within Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town’s biggest townships, to help “uplift” the local community through better services and greater access and connectivity. The bid book also contains the outline of the District Six Redevelopment Project, which looks to give land back to the families of former inhabitants, many of whom, between 1966 and 1982, were forcibly removed from this once thriving and cosmopolitan area on the fringes of Cape Town’s CBD. The project aims to create low-cost housing for up to 20,000 people.

But for all the optimism and excitement about 2014, City of Cape Town WDC2014 Programme Manager Richard Perez is quick to remind us that the award is merely a “stepping stone” and that any real value of Cape Town’s successful bid will come post-2014.

Makeka has reiterated that a collaborative approach between government, industry and academia and the “sharing of knowledge” across the different sectors is imperative for the potential success of 2014 going forward. At an earlier panel discussion at Free World Design Centre, focussing on 2014, Dutch designer Hans Roberts illustrated the potential of such collaboration, giving the example of municipalities in Holland that work with young designers by offering them reduced rent in certain urban areas that they feel need improvement. Through living in the areas, designers are able to better engage with the local environment and people, allowing them to create more apt design solutions.

Similarly, in her speech at the signing ceremony, Patricia de Lille also touched on the need to create “networks that jointly make up an attitude, an approach and a direction”. She went on to say that “the product of those networks combined is what will transform this city” and help South Africa on its road to building a “better future”. Twenty years after the birth of South Africa’s democracy, Cape Town’s year as World Design Capital in 2014 could be a significant step towards that future.


Co-written by Nadia Mokoena


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