Author: Lorelle Bell
First published: Saturday Argus
It’s been just over three months since Cape Town won the rights to the World Design Capital 2014 designation, an award made to cities recognised for their use of design as a catalyst for city development.
Since October, when the announcement was made, very little communication about the city’s plans for 2014 and how it intends to fulfill its bid pledge to LIVE DESIGN. TRANSFORM LIFE., has been available. The International Council for Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid), organisers of World Design Capital and promoters of industrial design, launched this biennial award in 2008 with Torino, Italy, to demonstrate “the social significance of design” and “with the goal of impressing upon cities the importance and recognition of design as an urban development tool,” according to Icsid secretary general Dilke Da Silva.
Explaining Icsid’s expectation of the city, Da Silva says, “As part of the year-long programme of events, designated World Design Capital (WDC) cities are mandated to host a calendar of various design-related events. Throughout the course of the year, the WDC Organising Committee (WDCOC) – which functions as Icsid’s in-house support group to the designated city – works in conjunction with a city’s newly formed WDC project management teams to develop project programming, support event planning, promote the WDC Calendar and ensure that the integrity of the WDC brand is maintained at all events.
“Each event slated on the WDC Calendar of Events is developed, managed and implemented under the direction of the local WDC project management team. In addition to the proposed events, Icsid works collaboratively with local organisers to develop a number of WDC Signature Events as well as a variety of other events throughout the year. We hope to see collaborative synergy between the local management team and Icsid as the WDC Calendar of Events is developed.” Preparations for the 12-month programme are expected to be substantial and all accounts from the 2012 WDC Helsinki indicate that it had to hit the ground running once the announcement was made, to generate the collaboration and support needed to produce the calendar of events.
At the end of last week the Executive Mayor Alderman Patricia De Lille announced she would form a multi-sectoral task team in preparation for the signing of the licence agreement with Icsid, in March, and that discussions were being held over “the key managerial steps that will be put in place going forward. The City, along with its hosting partners, will ensure that the World Design Capital 2014 is presented in an inclusive manner and arranged in a way that benefits all Capetonians.” The mayor has also recently indicated that, “The City has appointed an interim project director, Mr Evan Rice together with the Deputy City manager to coordinate the next phase of the process, which specifically entails the negotiation and signing of the Host City Agreement by the end of March this year, and the identification of the WDC2014 implementing organisation.
“To ensure continuity from the bidding phase through to the implementation phase, the Bid Committee has been invited to form the core of a Multi-Sectoral Task Team to continue to advise the City and inform the planning going forward, and the bid organising team from the Cape Town Partnership, will continue to provide support on key tasks until the implementation organisation is approved and put in place.” The references to inclusivity and “benefiting all Capetonians” will be key to a successful WDC for Cape Town since, in bidding, Cape Town’s commitment is not only to promote local design through the awards calendar of design-led events, but also to promote design as a catalyst for Cape Town’s transformation into a more inclusive, equitable and cohesive city.
For the Mayor, “The desired legacy of WDC2014 for the City is for design to become even more of a factor in informing decisions made in the City as a way of creating a more inclusive, safe, caring and well-run city which creates opportunities for its citizens. But the vision is that the geographic impact goes much further. The Bid was premised on the principle of “design for the 90%”, in reference to the 90% of the world’s population that lives in the developing world. Cape Town’s designation as the first World Design Capital from the developing world provides an opportunity to to explore and develop design-inspired solutions relevant to the billions of people living in developing world urban environments. The City of Stellenbosch and the Provincial administration are key partners in WDC2014, and we are intent on forging partnerships with other South African and African cities and institutions for WDC2014 to try and leave as broad a legacy as possible.
What this transformed city might look like is not clear, since no one has ventured a clearly articulated viable vision of a future Cape Town. Yet Icsid’s award was made to the city in part because “Cape Town’s application shared a vision to use design to re-invent an African city”, according to Da Sliva. As Edgar Pieterse, director of the Africa Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town reflects, the city is one which works for a “limited economic elite and tourists”. “If we accept,” he says, “that we have to stimulate the economic vibrancy of Cape Town, then there is little evidence of any innovative activity on the part of the public sector and its partners” Alluding to the development of Cape Town’s CBD, he attributes the decline in the numbers of residents – a key element in the viability of a vibrant, safe inner-city urban culture – to the pitching of the residential life to the upper end of the market.
Creating affordable housing options for the hundreds of thousands workers who travel into town for work or study, would be one way of ensuring the city’s vitality and sustainability. Pressed to consider how affordable housing could be made available for people in or near the city centre, Pieterse explains it would need a bold programme from government which could include “working with various parastatal bodies to target low income housing. We do have brownfield sites and there’s no reason why we can’t ringfence money in housing to systematically bring on stream a number of units per year” for development for this market. Government could, he elaborates, “target its own staff in the bottom four categories and create a database from those people who would be eligible for government subsidies.” This, he points out, would start to create a mixed group of people living in the CBD.
Cape Town he says, “needs a shared vision of a dynamic, multi-cultural city.” Instead, “the ongoing racism, xenophobia and (protection of) elite spaces, suggest a city in crisis with respect to vision and legitimacy.” In Pieterse’s view the city is still locked into an apartheid view of services, for example. “What the average middle-class Capetonians think they’re entitled to is still firmly rooted in what happened in apartheid, where their spaces were maintained by the state, where public funding maintained a high level of services in some areas at the expense of the poor.” But this, he says, “comes at a cost. To maintain a standard of services that is higher than normal in most European cities in these areas, means taking resources away from investing in areas in which these services are not seen to be required.”
According to Pieterse we need to develop a shared vision of a city that is lot more “gritty” and more tolerant of diversity than the current city leadership appear to have the appetite for. The pristine Singapore for example is not a role model. But the economic and culturally vibrant cities of Latin America are. As are cities like Hong Kong and Bangkok, where there is tolerance for rich and poor living in the same areas. Speaking on his return from a trip to Hong Kong, he says, “Hong Kong is a really wealthy city. But there is tolerance for the older, heritage parts and the newer less regulated activities to co-exist” in the same area. Upmarket shopping, he says, is located on the same street as markets that cater for the poor.
Reflecting on the limitations of an over-regulated city, Pieterse alludes to the city’s myopic view of graffitti as an example. “Sao Paolo is covered in graffitti which is very much part of its public culture. This doesn’t take away from its image as a regional economic hub, and a recognised global leader. If anything, this adds to its magnetism. You know Sao Paolo is a metropolis which is diverse and where unexpected things might happen.
“Cape Town, sadly, made a choice to go the Geneva route for a very small part of its population.” We need, he says, to embrace cities like Barcelona, Rio and Bangkok. “Cities that are tolerant and that really work for people and are exciting for their young. Where is our vibrant street life, and a street food culture, for example? We need a shared vision of a dynamic, multicultural city.”
Speaking off the cuff about what he might like to see in terms of an inclusive cultural event, Pieterse says he’d like to see events that attracted more working class people to the central city. One idea, he says, might be to explore how to extend the impact of an event like the New Year’s festival which sees choirs – many of which originate from historically inner city communities – parading through the streets of the city. “Perhaps,” he says, ” the choirs should hold public practices (much like major sports teams do in the run up to big matches) in the public spaces of the central city.”
For a full transcript of the interview with Icsid Secretary General Ms Dilki De Silva please click HERE
The views expressed in this article are entirely the views of the author or authors and are not necessarily those of DWA or its associates.