One of my favorite cities is Cape Town, South Africa. Tucked between the mountains and the sea, Cape Town sits at the southern tip of Africa and is a profound testament to the many cultures and peoples that have come upon the shores of that continent. The city has an active history of social change movements, dating back to the struggle against apartheid. In the years since the end of apartheid, Cape Town has grown increasingly rich with local design talent, bringing together the dynamism of the city itself with the artistry of this new talent. Increasingly, the city has become a backdrop for the art produced by its inhabitants. And that art continues to speak to the mix of peoples and cultures (black, white, Afrikaans, English, Indian, Cape Malay, and more!).
This year Cape Town was nominated for 2014 World Design Capital, a designation given to “cities that are dedicated to using design for social, cultural and economic development,” and I will be first to say that I am rooting for them! A powerful testament to the importance of design to urban spaces, the “WDC is more than just a project or a programme – it’s a global movement towards an understanding that design does impact and affect quality of human life.”
An article in the Cape Argus (5 April 2011) gave a beautiful description of Cape Town’s recently-submitted proposal:
“The 465-page bid book, which has been sent to the International Council for Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) in Canada, has as its theme, “Live design. Transform Life”. The year 2014 marks 20 years of democracy in South Africa and is a significant moment for people to embrace such a theme.
The bi-annual WDC award is bestowed by Icsid on cities that use design for their social, economic and cultural development. The story at the heart of Cape Town’s bid theme is about the City’s use of design to overturn the negative legacies of its colonial and apartheid past that saw design dividing people, disconnecting the city, and relegating both people of colour and the urban poor to its fringes. This both denied these people equitable access to resources and opportunities, not least the opportunity of making their own contributions to a better city. It also made the country a pariah in the eyes of the world, and excluded it from many opportunities to engage in the globalizing economy.”
The designation would bring a year-long program of design-related events to Cape Town and bring even attention from the international design community. Although the city’s design community has flourished in the last 15 years, there has been no collective vision. Dr Mugendi M’Rithaa, a senior lecturer at the Department of Industrial Design at the Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT), states of the WDC bidding process alone that it “gives us a common platform for acknowledging design as an asset and is a massive catalyst to align creative narratives. Cape Town’s bid is not about claiming that we are already an established ‘design capital brand’, but instead we are bidding to acknowledge that we are using design thinking as a tool for transformation. We want to show what design can do for us and that investment in design is an investment in our future.”
Design has already been a catalyst of change in Cape Town, allowing Capetonians to reposition and redefine their place in Africa and the world more every year. Let’s see what Icsid decides about, and hope that no matter what the outcome this bidding will do even more for the future of urban design on the African continent!
– Ariana K. MacPherson