Cape Town capital of cool

2014-01-01 06:00

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Mother City will be in global design spotlight this year

Shark nets and home-grown spinach are but some of the unusual suspects that will come under the global design spotlight in Cape Town this year.

After midnight last night, the Mother City became the World Design Capital (WDC) for 2014?– a title that’s awarded every two years by the International Design Alliance.

Cape Town won the bid to host WDC 2014 against worthy overseas opponents and assumed the mantle at a Grand Parade bash on New Year’s Eve.

Up to 80?000 revellers were expected to attend the WDC launch party, dubbed “Cape Town on top of the world”.

The celebration saw DJ Ready D, DJ Fresh and Toya Delazy take to stages amid pulsing strobe lights and lasers, a 3-D video showcase displayed on the City Hall and Table Mountain bathed in yellow lights.

Last week, festive yellow banners greeted people along Buitengracht Street.

They waved in the breeze next to the Cape Town International Convention Centre and alongside the vivid Bo Kaap inner-city sprawl. They also flank the N2 highway past shacks in Nyanga and on to the city’s airport.

The banners advertise WDC 2014’s vision to “transform Cape Town through design” and to create “a sustainable, productive African city, and to bridge historic divides”.

The city council has pumped R60?million into the campaign, which has seen 1?253 local design submissions whittled down to 465 official participating projects.

Examples include Zapacab, a mobile application for calling cab services, devised in Cape Town and currently expanding to Joburg, safe walkways for people living in townships and the Sharksafe Barrier, which promises protection against ocean predators without damaging marine life.

Several projects focus on greening poor areas and urban gardening, like the Oranjezicht City Farm on the slopes of Table Mountain, where volunteers gather to plant and prune beetroot, lemon trees and spinach on Saturday mornings.

The Valkenberg Hospital Revitalisation Project aims to upgrade the government mental-care institution that dates from the late 1800s.

The hospital has 370 beds and was threatened with closure in 1998. It famously housed poet Ingrid Jonker and is a feature in the troubled life of Tsepo, the lead character in K Sello Duiker’s novel, The Quiet Violence of Dreams.

The projects will be promoted at events across Cape Town next year with international visitors and media coverage abroad. The previous host of the WDC was Helsinki in Finland.

Finland invited City Press to Helsinki to observe the legacy of WDC 2012.

A report on the Finnish campaign shows its programme of 551 projects and 2?800 events was implemented by 14 500 people and observed by a worldwide audience of 2.5?million, with 7?000 media hits in Finland and another 8?000 media mentions around the world.

Situated on a peninsula in the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is the younger, hipster sibling of the Scandinavian capitals.

It brims with modern concrete, steel- and glass-encased buildings set around a neoclassical heart, in keeping with the broader region’s history of Swedish and Soviet imperialism.

Helsinki has been described as the world’s “spy capital” and played an important diplomatic role in the Cold War.

In 1990, US President George HW Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev famously met in the city centre to discuss Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Finns claim that design is in their DNA. Finland is home to the video gaming pioneer Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds; the mobile industry’s fallen giant, Nokia; and architect Alvar Aalto, who left behind a formidable legacy of stark, lopsided modernist buildings in Helsinki when he died in 1976.

Jackie Kennedy put Finnish textile brand Marimekko on the map by wearing its tailored A-line dresses in the 1960 US presidential election campaign.

With WDC 2012, Helsinki city bosses officially shifted design on to the political agenda.

One of Finland’s biggest problems is its bloated public sector, which is sustained by steep tax levies. This makes the country very expensive, especially to outsiders.

For instance, a cup of coffee costs €3.50 in Helsinki. Since the current exchange rate is about R14 to the euro, it costs an eye-watering R49.50.

The ministry of employment and economy, and the ministry of education and culture are now in charge of using design as a tool for streamlining the country’s public sector.

They are rethinking aspects of schooling, hospitals, housing delivery and public transport with the private sphere and tertiary institutions.

Examples include a mobile application that allows Helsinki’s residents to track decisions reached by the city’s council 15 minutes behind real time.

There’s also an online initiative by Aalto University to combat sexually transmitted infections. The portal offers risk assessment and home-test-kit orders and allows positively diagnosed students to notify former sexual partners anonymously.

Hip design studio Muotohiomo was commissioned to redesign government-funded school meals. Decreed changes included lunch hour music playlists and photographs of chefs displayed within eyesight of the children.

The studio’s managing director, Pekka Toivanen, said: “A school meal transcends nutrition. It is about teaching children to want to get together and also an appreciation for those who prepared their food.”

At primary school level, 15?000 six-year-old Finnish kids had “design education” last year.

In high schools, courses in gaming design are optional.

South Africa and Finland grapple with different historic nuances and socioeconomic issues, but WDC 2012 reveals how design has created real change in Finnish society.

Cape Town’s design aficionados hope the same will apply when the clock strikes 12am on January 1 and the real work begins.

»?Huisman was a guest of the City of Helsinki and Helsinki WDC 2012

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