Decoding Design

Cape Town named World Design Capital for 2014

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Cape Town, South Africa, will be the fourth World Design Capital, taking the title for 2014. The honor will likely spark new tourism and government and corporate support to help drive the city's economy, fueled by the design industry.

Being crowned the World Design Capital is an honor that only three cities have held so far, with a fourth just announced: Cape Town, South Africa.

It joins Torino, Italy (2008); Seoul, South Korea (2010) and Helsinki, Finland (designated for 2012) as the other World Design Capitals that have benefited from the designation, not only in terms of media attention and tourism, but also government support and local economic stimulation. Cape Town will be the World Design Capital in 2014.

The win for Cape Town, announced at the International Design Alliance Congress in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 26, is especially timely given that 2014 marks 20 years of democracy in post-apartheid South Africa.

“2014...is the moment when the past and the future will come together for Cape Town, in contemplation and in action," Patricia de Lille, Executive Mayor of Cape Town, said in her acceptance speech in Taipei. "In South Africa, cities were designed over decades to divide people. But since our new democratic era, we have been focused on trying to bring people together, to create a sustainable city that fosters real social inclusion.”

Cape Town beat Bilbao, Spain and Dublin, Ireland for the honor. Statements on why Cape Town is an appropriate choice can be found in the city's bid for the title. In one section, for example, the authors of the bid book write, "rebuilding is taking place in low-income communities in particular, and...we are using design to alleviate the problems around social housing," among other goals that are likely to get high international visibility and support during Cape Town's World Design Capital year.

The economic and social benefits of being named World Design Capital begin before the title takes effect. Take Helsinki. As a result of being named World Design Capital 2012, “design is now part of Helsinki’s city strategy, the metropolitan strategy and the central government strategy," Pekka Timonen, executive director of World Design Capital 2012 in Helsinki, said in an interview posted on October 27 on the official web site for Cape Town's bid to be the World Design Capital 2014.

"The government issued a statement committing their financial support, urging different government bodies to read the bid book and see where they can take a role in the project. World Design Capital isn’t about Helsinki as a city, but about our whole nation," Timonen said in the interview.

“A new government was voted into power this summer and they have adopted the design stance of their predecessor, and a new national design project will be developed. They did this because they understand that well-being and competitiveness is created by a good design environment.”

The International Council for Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID)  awards the World Design Capital title every two years to a city that sees design as an engine for economic, cultural and social development. Winning cities pay 160,000 Euros to ICSID to license the title, which they hold for a year. The honor is given far in advance to allow cities to develop a year's worth of events--as well as funding--to attract tourists, designers, and corporate sponsors, with the goal of boosting national interest and investment in design.

Photo: Derek Keats/Flickr

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure