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Cape Town named Africa’s first UNESCO City of Design

Thursday, 02 November 2017   (0 Comments)
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The Woodstock Exchange - one of Cape Town's design hubs


Statement by the City’s Executive Mayor, Patricia de Lille


Cape Town has become the first city in Africa to be named a UNESCO City of Design, joining a total of 180 cities in UNESCO’s global Creative Cities Network. The honour recognises a city's design status and commitment to promoting and developing the cultural and creative industries.


Launched in 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network aims to foster international cooperation with and between cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and cultural vibrancy.


Cape Town joins a group of 31 UNESCO Cities of Design across the world. Other cities who received designation this year include Brasilia (Brazil), Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Greater Geelong (Australia), Istanbul (Turkey), Kolding (Denmark), Kortrijk (Belgium), Mexico City (Mexico) and Wuhan (China). Durban, the only other South African city included in the Network, was admitted as a UNESCO City of Literature.


The City of Cape Town is delighted to have been admitted into UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network as a Design City. We recognise that creativity and culture are critical components in shaping Cape Town as a thriving and resilient city. Being part of the Network will help create valuable partnerships; coordinate, focus and grow Cape Town’s local design sector; share and create knowledge, grow new markets and have an impact on Cape Town’s ability to achieve inclusive, urban sustainable development.


This achievement is a testament to our efforts paying off in line with the commitments of the City’s Organisational Development and Transformation Plan to position Cape Town as a forward-looking, innovative, globally competitive business city and will help us take this mission forward as we take our city to event greater heights.


The City’s application to UNESCO was put forth in June 2017 following broad consultation with stakeholders representing the local design ecosystem, including the private and public sectors, academia and civil society. A highlight of the process was a co-design workshop facilitated by the University of Cape Town’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking involving multiple design sector bodies, local and regional government, design practitioners, tertiary education bodies and design event organisers.


With the designation, the City in partnership with the local design sector aims to develop and nurture international partnerships; collaborate on projects and events linked to sustainable urban development; build better communities; and enhance and develop a more robust local design sector.


A total of 64 cities from 44 countries have this year been designated as UNESCO Creative Cities.


‘These new designations showcase an enhanced diversity in city profiles and geographical balance, with 19 cities from countries not previously represented in the Network. The cooperation framework proposed to foster candidate cities from the Africa region – a UNESCO Global Priority – has been a true success, with nine African cities now joining the Network,’ said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova.


Leading design practitioners, event organisers and industry organisations have welcomed the announcement.


The Director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT, Richard Perez said: ‘The d-school congratulates Cape Town on the City’s inclusion as a Design City in UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. As the only dedicated academic institute in the region which offers training and capacity building in design thinking, the d-school has experienced the benefits of this human-centred innovation approach to addressing complex challenges. We believe that investing human capital with creative confidence and skills in a design-led innovation approach are the keys to creating a future-ready, inclusive and sustainable city. Developing a human-centred innovation mind-set and culture will enable the City of Cape Town to strategically leverage its creative industries to realise the sector’s potential for socio-economic growth and development and to take advantage of the opportunities that the UNESCO designation brings’.


Erica Elk, Executive Director of the Craft & Design Institute (CDI), says: "The City of Cape Town has been a keen supporter of the development of the local creative economy since the late 1990s and its inclusion into the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a Design City can only help intensify its support to this very important – and often overlooked – sector".


A 2012 research study estimated that there are between 50 000 and 80 000 people working in design-related businesses in the Western Cape. Designers in the research ranged from the technologically resourced graphic designer and the highly skilled ceramicist producing high-value goods to the wireworker applying latent design skill to market supplied ideas, product developers, ICT systems designers and architects.


"Designers operate at every link in the product-to-market chain. A recent research study commissioned by the CDI shows that the value of local design retail is in excess of R400 million per annum. These developments bear out that there has been a growing awareness over the past 10 years of the value of craft, handmade, artisanal and bespoke products in particular," said Elk.


Co-founder of the Open Design Festival Cape Town, Suné Stassen, says Cape Town is not only an exciting and unique melting pot of diverse cultural experiences, but also a place where design and innovation in its broadest sense, across various sectors, in education and in communities, is used as a vehicle to bring about change and transformation.


"Acknowledged as the most entrepreneurial city of South Africa and the Creative Capital of Africa, this designation as a UNESCO Creative City will further propel Cape Town's leading role in collaboration with other African cities to drive the ongoing African Design and Innovation agendas so that the genius from Africa can be showcased and shared with the world," says Stassen.


Organisers of the Design Indaba conference, one of the city’s signature creative events, said: "As an organisation that believes in the power of creativity to unlock the economic potential of our city, Design Indaba could not think of a better opportunity for the City of Cape Town than to be a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Throughout the 22 years of hosting the biggest design festival in the world right here in Cape Town, we can attest that this is a great city for design. Not only does the city celebrate the best in design, but also the potential for us to reimagine aspects of the design world, such as spatial planning. Cape Town has many challenges but with that comes opportunities to bridge the divide while using creativity as a tool to create a better world".


Please see UNESCO Creative Cities Network Statement issued on Tuesday 31 October 2017:



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