Cape Town has designs on 2014

By Rebecca Davis 27 October 2011

Social media were abuzz on Wednesday with the early morning announcement that Cape Town is to be 2014’s World Design Capital. The bid committee says this will guarantee economic growth, jobs and a place in the international spotlight in two years’ time. And an influx of tourists who not here to watch football, of course. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Even though you may never have heard of the World Design Capital title before, this is a big deal. Cape Town beat out some stiff competition for the title – Bilbao and Dublin were left disappointed when the announcement was made in Taipei at the International Design Alliance Congress, with Cape Town executive mayor Patricia de Lille on hand to give a gracious acceptance speech. De Lille pointed out that 2014 will mark 20 years of democracy, and poetically suggested that “2014, then, is the moment when the past and the future will come together for Cape Town”. Helen Zille called the news “a great boost for the whole of South Africa”.

The title is awarded every two years by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), the organising body of those working in industrial design. The award of World Design Capital is intended to honour cities which recognise design as a “social and cultural stimulator”, and which use design as “a viable tool for economic growth”. The selected city has to host a number of events during the year, four of which are standard events (such as the International Design Conference), and six “signature events”. The details of what these will entail will be hashed out closer to the time, but are expected to attract international attention.

Cape Town’s bid succeeded on the basis of a conceptual strategy by the Cape Town Partnership called “Live Design, Transform Life”. Its unique selling point was the potential for design to overcome the fractures and fissures of apartheid. “Since the advent of democracy in 1994, Cape Town has undergone a process of reconstructing and reconnecting a city that had been physically, socially, economically, culturally and emotionally divided for many decades,” the proposal read. ICSID bought it – and so, in three years time, Cape Town joins an elite club which has previously included Torino, in Italy (2008), Seoul, South Korea (2010) and Helsinki, Finland (2012).  The reason the award is announced so far in advance is to give the chosen city time to plan its calendar of events.

Capetonians stand to benefit from the award in terms of the infrastructure which will need to be spruced up. Guy Lundy, of Accelerate Cape Town, on Wednesday gave the example of public transport, which stands to be improved in the run-up. Cape Town Partnership CEO Andrew Boraine tweeted that the opportunity would enable all design-related issues in Cape Town to be raised more vocally and prominently over the next few years. CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, aims for nothing less ambitious than the redesign of the city along more integrated lines. Shortly after the announcement she tweeted that the award gives Cape Town the opportunity and platform to redesign a historically disconnected city as “inclusive, entrepreneurial and sustainable”. Anyone who’s ever been to Cape Town will know that’s a tough ask.

The main area in which Cape Town looks set to profit, though, is from increased tourism. ICSID has said that when Torino was World Design Capital in 2008, it experienced bigger tourist numbers than in 2006, when it hosted the Winter Olympics. Cape Town Tourism will be crossing its fingers that the same magic applies to the Mother City – especially since Cape Town actually pays for the privilege, to the tune of €150,000 in licensing fees over three years. DM

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Photo: Table Mountain, Cape Town. Reuters.


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