Working Together: Cape Town's Bid for World Design Capital 2014

The Bid Book for World Design Capital 2014, which won a coveted advertising award at The Loeries

The Bid Book for World Design Capital 2014, which won a coveted advertising award at The Loeries

What made Cape Town's World Design Capital bid successful?  In this piece I suggest it had a lot to do with timing - the confluence of dynamic leaders with shared principles, working towards the Soccer World Cup 2010, together with work being done to promote the creative industries.  It also came at a time when a number of innovative creative and socially engaged projects were emerging in response to the challenges of the Cape Town context.

The Soccer World Cup in a Divided City

The five years leading up to preparations for Cape Town as a host city for the Soccer World Cup 2010 was a dynamic time to be working on urban issues in the city.  For all its challenges, one of the abiding opportunities that the event provided was that of a tight deadline, and focused budgeting, all with the pressure of a watching world.   It was also fortunate that a number of the key institutions in the city were run by leaders who had recognised the power of working together and partnership building.  This cannot be take lightly if we considert the extreme challenges faced by the city behind readiness for a major sporting event.

Table Mountain lit with the bid's yellow shade

Table Mountain lit with the bid's yellow shade

In the last article on Cape Town pre 2000, we discovered we are dealing with a story of two cities with extreme contrasts culturally.  How did this show itself socially, economically and spatially and how could these stories be spoken of when the throngs of media converged on the city and country in the lead up to the World Cup?   

The happy story was that Cape Town is considered one of the most naturally beautiful and desirable spots in the world to be in, consistently winning international tourism and livability accolades.  Its famous Table Mountain dominates the city's landscapes, edged by pristine beaches and unique flora. People friendly urban spaces, great food and wine and a lively nightlife complete the tourism picture

But its only part of the story since city's tourist sites are conveniently isolated from the high levels of unemployment, poverty and violence in its segregated suburbs.  For the majority of the citizens, its people of color, who were forced to the edges of the city by apartheid planning, little has changed since transformation.  Its these areas that give the city its darker title as South Africa's capital for murder, rape and violence against women and children.  Basic services, like sanitation and waste management are often absent and social and health services weak or non existent. Gangs formed decades back roam freely, distributing cheap, highly addictive drugs.

Architect Tsai's Nested Bed design for an orphanage 

Architect Tsai's Nested Bed design for an orphanage 

The World Cup as a Network Generator

One of the opportunities of mega events is the infrastructure budgets that get unlocked linked to a deadline.  FIFA's insistence on Greenpoint for the stadium. so it could capitalise on an iconic view for broadcasting, was a significant blow for spatial justice.  It meant the bulk of the capital budget would be allocated to areas where the wealthy white population were based, rather than where it was most needed, in the Cape Flats.  New public spaces and pedestrian routes around the stadium, and leading to it, widened the divisions of the divided city, by enhancing the property values of the already wealthy.   However, the investment into new transport infrastructure, the Bus Rapid Transport system promised to make some inroads into addressing spatial divides.  Moreover the city continued supporting innovative public space upgrades in many previously marginalised areas.  But investment in the built environment is nothing if there is no commitment to the soft elements surrounding them. 

The most exciting part of the deadline of the World Cup was the commitment by a number of key agencies, led by committed individuals, to work collectively to make the most of the mega event, inspired by the Barcelona Olympics.  Leaders from the Cape Town Partnership (an urban facilitation body), Cape Town Tourism, Accelerate Cape Town (a business forum), the four universities, provincial and local government formed the core of this grouping. The grouping included a few influential individuals publicly committed to social justice issue, who were also published thought leaders. There were regular gatherings and talk shops which were relatively open, with invitations made across the sectors to be involved.  This allowed a sustained cross dialogue over a significant period on a range of issues: economic, social and spatial.   Its in these discussions that many of the key transformational issues were surfaced and various strategies emerged, that looked to meld the opportunities from the World Cup with needs across the city.   Although many of these did not fully achieve the desired ends for a multitude of reasons, there was now at least important new connections and shared directions.

The second of three Creative Cape Town Annuals focussed on the World Design Capital bid, explaining it to the city's creative sector.

The second of three Creative Cape Town Annuals focussed on the World Design Capital bid, explaining it to the city's creative sector.

The Creative Economy Grows

The provincial government's key economic drive from as early as 2000 was to bring growth and transformation together.  Its Micro Economic Development Strategy (MEDS) built on extensive research, and identified a number of new sectors underpinned with a commitment to reach all, in particular the marginalised.  Various creative industry sectors were highlighted and the province began investing in special purpose vehicles or SPVs  to further the design, music, visual arts, film, and ICT industries at a provincial level.

But there was still a gap in working at a city level with dynamics of the cultural sector identified last week.  A cross cutting process was needed to bring the cultural and creative players into the dialogues happening at a macro level.  Creative Cape Town emerged out of research commissioned by Cape Town Partnership and was established as one of its core projects.  It had a  communication and facilitation role.  On the back of research and consultation, it built communities via regular gatherings, publishing and social media.  Its initial focus was on three key areas - music, design and memory.  The latter a commitment to work with the faultlines of the cultural divides in the city.  The need to sharpen focus and work with its capacity constraints, saw Creative Cape Town narrow its work to the cross cutting areas of design and a communicative focus on cultural tourism.

It was through Creative Cape Town's partnership development work that the commitment for the World Design Capital bid emerged. Building on the networks and energy behind the World Cup, and those from the MEDS process, in 2009, a decision was taken to bid for World Design Capital 2014.  The Cape Town Partnership which was funded primarily by local government petitioned city council to allow it to bid.  Creative Cape Town's network, which included major design players such as the Cape Craft and Design Institute and The CPUT Informatics and Design Department, became the engine for the bid. Later the Cape Town Design Network was formed to enable the design sector to have a voice.  This group of partners would play a key role in development of the bid concept - Live Design Transform Life and drive the activation of the community towards supporting the bid. 

Building a Shared Bid

Supporters of the WDC14 bid in Harare, Khayelitsha outside a VPUU site

Supporters of the WDC14 bid in Harare, Khayelitsha outside a VPUU site

It was not all smooth sailing convincing Capetonians that bidding for World Design Capital mattered.  Firstly design was seen narrowly as products - usually associated with luxury lifestyle items.  A key part of the bid was therefore to convince the public that design - defined around problem solving - was broader than things.  This is how Design Thinking entered the vocabulary of the city.  Secondly the design community itself was not used to thinking about design in relation to real world problems.  Thus there was a need to share the inspiring innovative solutions to the challenges of the city that the bid working team and committee were  coming across.   Project such as The Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrades - using community and participation together with urban design to deal with the challenges of crime; the Joule Car - a prototype electric car, and the Bus Rapid Transport system were all shared as good cases of using design to address social issues and to show that the city had the capabilities and track record of using design in socially innovative ways. 

These and other projects which surfaced in the years leading up to bid being lodged, were heavily punted.  A concerted effort of sharing and talking were all done under the banner of the yellow and black of the bid which was adopted by citizens, who bathed the city in the colours after Cape Town was shortlisted against Bilbao and Dublin.  The I support WDC 2014 badge appeared on websites, face book pages, on doors and on peoples lapels. 

When the city's design ecosystem was finally tallied, the material filled a very thick bid book.  It was structured around three key themes - Rebuild Cape Town through community cohesion; Reconnect Cape Town through infrastructural enhancement, and Reposition Cape Town in the knowledge economy.   All of these were held together with a strong commitment for using socially responsive design in the context of a divided city. The bid proposed using the year to grow the ecosystem of socially responsive design and harnessing it through projects of change.  Copies of the bid books were displayed in a number of prominent spots in the city and viewed by thousands of people.  By the time Cape Town was announced the winner late in 2011, the community of support was extensive and commitment for the bid's concept appeared high.

Live-design2.jpg

Conclusion

Working towards a mega event is an opportunity to build cohesiveness around shared vision, tied to a deadline.  It allows differences to be successfully mediated if there is consistent dialogue.  This was the case in Cape Town leading up to both the Soccer World Cup 2010 and the World Design Capital bid 2014.   It was able to build on a community of leaders concerned with the challenges of the city across sectors.  In Cape Town, processes underway to build a creative industries sector, together with a growing ecosystem of social innovators, further helped it win the title of World Design Capital 2014.