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Using Design To Transform

Cape Town in the running for World Design Capital 2014

Jul 29, 2011

The year 2014 represents a significant milestone for South Africa as it will mark 20 years since the country’s first free democratic elections in 1994. Cape Town has just been selected as one of only three cities to make it into the final round for consideration as the World Design Capital 2014. If Cape Town wins this prestigious accolade, it will be the perfect year for Capetonians to support the theme of Cape Town’s bid, which celebrates its democracy: “Live design. Transform Life.”

According to the Bid Book Committee, the story at the heart of Cape Town’s bid theme is about the city’s use of design to overturn the negative legacy of its colonial and apartheid past; a cruel design which aimed to divide people, disconnect the city, and force both people of color and the urban poor to its fringes.

Since the end of this era in 1994, Cape Town has begun using design as a tool across all sectors to transform and reconnect the city. The design being talked about is not the creation of high-end “stuff” or design for design’s sake. It is about design-led social solutions, public spaces informed by design, and sustainably-designed transport and infrastructure upgrades, such as the new Integrated Rapid Transport system, which is making life better for residents and visitors alike.

At the recent World Design Capital 2014 Bid Book handover, Cape Town Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille said, “We are building an inclusive city, one based around five pillars: the opportunity city, the safe city, the caring city, the inclusive city, and the efficient city. Design is a tool for all of these areas of building a truly inclusive city.”

The platform for Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 bid is not based on the notion that the city is a “design capital” of the world, but instead an acknowledgement that it is using design as an instrument for social, cultural, and economic change. Of the three finalists (the others are Bilbao, Spain, and Dublin, Ireland) Cape Town is most significantly placed in the employment of design as an instrument of social transformation. Just look at projects like the Economic Development Agency, industrial design for the low-carbon economy such as the Joule electric car in Woodstock; design for social and community development such as the work of the Reconstructed Living Laboratory in Athlone; and the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading program in Khayelitsha.

Being shortlisted for the World Design Capital 2014 title is yet another opportunity to change perceptions and reposition Cape Town, South Africa, and Africa on the world stage, as was done with the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

The internationally-regarded Bruce Mau’s Massive Change Network said it best: “It’s not about the world of design, it’s about the design of the world” … and in this case, the design of the city.

For more information, visit and download your badge in support of Cape Town's bid. The winning city will be announced on October 26, 2011.

Cape Town in the running for World Design Capital 2014
Photo by Skye Grove


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