31 March 2011

World Design Capital – success in process

Design Indaba and the Toffie Pop Culture Festival showed Cape Town one thing, once again, and it is that SA’s got talent, alright – the annual creative producer’s showcase pointedly effectively illustrated that design is the new black, and urbanism is the new real. Put them together, and you’re sure to win.  So what’s happening with the Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 bid, which does exactly that?

If you haven’t heard the buzz that is busy infecting the city, World Design Capital is a biennial award granted to one city that uses design to uplift the social, economic and cultural well being of its inhabitants.

It’s a marvellous idea, recognising a centre of innovation and creativity and spread the gospel of good design globally.  How does it help the city itself to hold this title? The stimulation and support that the badge brings with it is best seen in terms of its ongoing development and networking.


Seoul did well with its win. Already aware of the power of design to transform lives and economies, the 2010 G-20 South Korean Summit host convinced The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) that it was worth the 2010 award. Its focus on the ‘impact of design on the social, cultural and economic development of the city” raised eyebrows and ‘ayes’  in the unanimous vote, and its intelligent, internationally loved, hi-tech consumer products (phones, cars, household appliances) played a distinct part in the positives.

“Design is a growth driver of the Seoul economy,” said Seoul’s Mayor, Oh Se-hoon at the Award Ceremony in Torino, Italy in 2008.

“We have surprised the world with the Miracle of the Han River and advancements in the IT sector. Now we would like to bring global attention to Seoul with strong design.”

“With Seoul’s designation as WDC 2010, the city will be able to breathe creative energy into the design industry and reinvent itself into a globally recognised city of design and collaborate with other cities in the world to communicate with design. Seoul will send out the message that design is the power to change the world for the better.”

As reported on LondonKoreanLinks.com, Oh has made design and the environment part of the organisational structure of the city administration, with a Deputy Mayor specifically responsible for design. The city has a Chief Design Officer who is an ex-president of the Korea Institute for Design Promotion and a professor of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. This effort challenges recalcitrant attitudes of design as a beautifier, rather than a rejuvenator and innovator.

Feeding into this are initiatives like the Green Project (greening the streets and parks) and the Blue Project (making the Han River banks more user friendly and appealing). The city also hosted the 2010 Design Cities Summit, supported by mayors and design groups from key cities across the world. In essence, Seoul is living up to the task of its Declaration : using and implementing sustainable design to improve peoples’ lives.

On reflection on the closure of a successful term as World Design Capital, the Mayor noted to Korean press Arirang News the role the Award played in raising the city’s status as “an attractive city that is appealing to visit, invest in and live in” since 2007.”

The award boosted the city’s international brand, and widened perceptions of Seoul as a modern urban city, stressing urban design as an “essential element for survival in the 21st century” for what comes of international competition for investment, tourism and talent and residents and visitors’ happiness index.

On the way, it is capitalising on the award’s media attention, and investing in a global design network by motivating for exchanges that turn cities into creative capitals.

Back home, our own Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Dan Plato,  had the following to say in anticipation of the bid submission.

“Our bid forms part of a broader vision to position Cape Town as a leading global city and to build on our World Cup success,” said Alderman Plato. “In 2010, we hosted one of the most successful World Cups in recent years and the first on African soil. This provided Cape Town with the backbone of significant infrastructural enhancements and a renewed sense of civic pride. Our aim is to build on that legacy through our World Design Capital 2014 bid. Ours is a proudly African bid, with the ultimate goal of achieving a sustainable, innovative, inclusive and more liveable African City, rooted in the strengths of our people and communities.”

Cape Town is already a creative capital, a tourist capital, and an enclave of innovation. We’ve developed African-appropriate software that connects millions through a mobile phone (18,5 million plus on Mxit); African-appropriate, low-cost housing link sandbag house and innovation in inner city development strategy with development projects like The Fringe.

The team putting the bid together has been very busy preparing the bid book, a beautiful, 460-page handmade book produced by Design Infestation. The book accompanied Cape Town’s bid lodged in Montréal recently. The Mayor received the book on March 30, 2011 from the co-ordinators of the City’s bid, Cape Town Partnership, and an edited version will be available to the public by the end of April 2011.

Will Cape Town win? We don’t know, but Cape Town has already won, in one sense. Compiling the bid book has cast new light on this city’s innovation, motivation and inspiration.

Our question to you is: win, or win-win, how are we going to continue to build a city that believes in its citizens? The answer? Together.


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