Last year was a momentous one for the Mother City, which was awarded the status of World Design Capital (WDC) 2014.
The prestigious designation from the International Council for Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) is given to cities across the globe that are showing commitment to using design as a social, cultural and economic development tool. The inaugural WDC 2008 award went to Torino in Italy, followed by Seoul in 2010 and Helsinki in Finland in 2012, with Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, being bestowed the title for 2016 and shortlisted cities already announced for 2018.
As South Africa’s oldest city, Cape Town is three times the size of New York and often regarded as the gateway to Africa. Yet, despite the fact that the majority of the 3.6 million Capetonians are regarded as having the highest standard of living of all South African cities, Cape Town is still the first city in a developing country to receive the honour.
Having ushered in the infamous year with a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration at the iconic Grand Parade, it was followed by 365 days of forums, gala dinners, exhibitions, workshops and community events celebrating the creativity and transformation of design in the city. Now that it is over, what does it all mean for Cape Town, its people and the country as a whole? The numbers in the city’s Economic Impact Assessment Report tell a remarkable story, for sure. For every R1 spent in Cape Town’s R60 million WDC2014 budget, R2.46 was generated in direct and indirect investment. The impact spilt nationally too, with R1.11 in gross geographic product (GGP) generated for every R1 spent, translating to a direct investment of R25.2 million into the provincial economy.
The purse strings of the 460-plus recognised projects also benefitted greatly, thanks mainly to cutting-edge funding opportunities that were made available to smaller projects such as the Gugulethu Food Festival, the Cover the Homeless with Love this Winter Campaign and the 365 Postcards for Ants project, which received an investment of R139,250, the highest amount awarded through crowdfunding instigated by WDC initiatives. In fact, the collaboration between WDC2014 and Thundafund on 37 projects resulted in a crowdfunding investment of R1.2 million, which, in turn, led to an indirect R2.2m impact on new business sales and schemes. The financial numbers tell one story, but small businesses and projects profited in several other ways too. International promotion of Cape Town as a design destination meant local companies benefitted from global promotion too, with the Dutch Government spending R10.5m on the #cocreateSA project and a new association created between Helsinki’s Aalto University and Cape Town University of Technology.
The construction of a retail space for 150 young local designers at the Watershed in the V & A Waterfront came as a result of a call for submissions. Situated in the heart of the city’s tourism hub, the shed reportedly generated R50 million in revenue over the December 2014/January 2015 retail season alone and continues to bring together local, national and international visitors and local designers. For the ordinary Capetonian, Mayor Patricia de Lille expressed a wish that WDC 2014 might see design touching each of the 111 in the metropolitan areas. The ward projects, described in the report as ground breaking, involved 36 workshops in 81 wards, which leveraged more than R15 million in ward allocation spending. Of the 2500 people who took part, 1600 were residents and 475 were professional designers, and the expenditure of the R60m budget also resulted in an increase of R41m in household income.
It’s clear that the story of design in our city is not finished, but simply on pause. Maintaining the momentum created and preserving the legacy from WDC 2014 seems to be the key now. Was it worth it? Given the fact that more than half the world’s populations now live in urban areas, the need for better designed cities increases competition and creates a sought-after urban metropolis that is attractive, liveable and efficient.
WDC 2014 has helped increase awareness of design thinking amongst Cape Town city officials from 53% to 64%, thus better equipping the city to make better, smarter decisions that will no doubt help improve the quality of life for all in South Africa and the continent – and that cannot be bad thing.