Cape Town’s bid story

The City of Cape Town's successful bid for World Design Capital 2014 was coordinated by the Cape Town Partnership, in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders and supporters.

Cape Town. A Design City.

 Address by Felicity Purchase, Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Development and Tourism during the World Design Cities Summit, Seoul, February 2010.

On behalf of the mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Dan Plato, greetings from the Southern tip of Africa. I am Felicity Purchase, a councillor of the City of Cape Town.

Let me introduce Cape Town to you...

It’s been called the Fairest Cape by some, by others the Cape of Storms, the Cape of Good Hope, the Tavern of the Seas and the Mother City.

It lies at the south-western tip of Africa, uniquely nestled between two national heritage sites – Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned) and Table Mountain, a majestic flat-topped mountain that creates the backdrop against which the Central City lies. Cape Town is a Port City. A gateway to both a continent and a nation, and home to about 3,5 million people. But most of all, its a meeting place for Capetonians - and visitors - to experience South Africa’s oldest city.

Capetonians live in a beautiful city with rich cultural diversity, and a city about to explode with the exhuberance of the 2010 FIFA Football World Cup. But it is also a city defined by over three centuries of oppression, Apartheid, the marginalisation of many of its people, and the suppression of their stories and memories. Our society has been marked by inequality, violence and division; deeply scarred by human rights violations. We are now in the process of designing a new society. A new City for all.

History books tell how the Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company’s fleet en route to the Dutch East Indies in 1652, how settlers established themselves here, planting crops, slaves digging grachte to route precious water from the slope of Table Mountain and how slave women congregated around the wash houses.

Slavery was central to much of our City’s history until its abolition in 1834, and markers are still to be found around town, reminding us of our past. The base of a tree where slaves were sold at auction, their names engraved in monuments on Church Square - a reclaimed public space. (sic)

Narrow sidewalks and wide roads in parts of the City are the leftovers of a Cityscape subject to poor urban planning, designed for the privileged in their cars and with little regard for the poor on foot. The renowned Danish architect and urban designer, Jan Gehl, refers to pedestrians in Cape Town as “a hunted race”.


Public transport has, historically, been mainly for those less fortunate. In a new era, where energy saving is crucial, this has become one of the many key challenges in redesigning a City originally created to entrench apartheid; a City which previously disconnected its people from one another by means of townships and separate development. Like many other Cities in South Africa, we have endured half a century of of ill-conceived design, poor environmental control, social exclusion and urban sprawl.

How inspiring is it, then, when urban designers, artists and local authorities create, through partnerships, new public spaces where people interact, experience and enjoy. This beautiful space we call Pier Place was until recently a wind-swept barren space, unwelcoming to pedestrians and avoided by passersby.

On 11 February we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. I remember standing on the Grand Parade - our oldest public square - listening to one man’s vision for the reconciliation of a nation. That day the greatest-ever design project in South Africa began: one that would create a unique constitution for one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Today, we continue to redesign our country and our City in many ways. Learning as we go along. Cape Town’s unique vision of becoming a City of inspiration and innovation is part of the reinvention of a unique nation. Redesigning. Rethinking. Reinventing. A City for all, where creativity abounds, innovation flows freely, entrepreneurship is nurtured and where knowledge leads through the people who live this vision every day as they interact with the City.

It’s a City that today includes everyone, and which honours their history and collective memory, offering safety and unity. A city which acknowledges the human rights of all its people and those beyond its borders.

Today this scarred landscape where only a few lonely reminders of the old community remain, is slowly showing signs of life once again as its adjacent neighbourhood - what we call the East City - is occupied by entrepreneurs, artists, architects, designers, IT specialists, internet babies and entertainers. Many of Cape Town’s more than 1000 creative industries are busy settling here, finding a space to create and enrich the local economy. Colouring in a neighbourhood, recreating a community to rediscover old spaces and reconnecting another once forgotten City district to its core.

An East City Design Initiative is slowly taking shape – a project supported by the Local and Provincial governments that will redefine this neighbourhood into a design precinct for Cape Town. A research park for the knowledge economy. A place filled with cafes, parks, entertainment spots and social centres where entrepreneurs, engineers and designers from many disciplines can network with each other, with a nation, and with the world.

Cape Town. South Africa’s legislative capital. This building, which once put the stamp on apartheid laws, now enacts legislation aimed at benefiting all citizens and cementing their rights, ensuring equality and a voice for all. Surrounding this building is the Central City’s largest parkland to date, coined the Company’s Garden; an indigenous meander of old impressive trees, the Cape’s Fynbos kingdom that leads you ultimately into Adderley Street – the main road that takes you through town to end at the water’s edge.

In a few months’ time, we will be hosting our biggest event ever. The 2010 FIFA World Cup in Cape Town’s uniquely designed urban stadium, surrounded by a new urban park which will be nourished by water flowing from the slopes of Table Mountain –buried for centuries underground, emptying out directly into the sea, but soon to be reintegrated into the flow of life through the City.

This reconnection is part of a series of new links that will be facilitated by this world event. A new public transport system will reconnect Capetonians to their City with almost 500 kilometres of new transportation corridors – cycle lanes, pedestrian walkways, rail and road. These are the paths that will bring people from all over the greater Cape Town area to meet in town, supporting their team and ultimately rediscovering their city.

The redevelopment of an old apartheid structure – the Cape Town Station – into a state-of-the-art, design-led public railway station is nearing completion. Aimed at spurring on a new generation of commuters from all over the wider Cape Town, a new road link between the City and the new airport forms part of the broader vision of reconnecting Capetonians to their City in a more sustainable and efficient manner.

Camissa. The place of sweet waters. Another name for Cape Town. Another connection. Water was the reason why a settlement was established here in the 17th century, and is now behind a design project that will enable us to claim back that which is good. The Reclaim Camissa project will form the base of an infrastructure that will connect the Central City to this vital resource, resulting in beautiful parks lining pedestrian walkways and urban public places, celebrating the waters that link mountain to sea, past to future, and people to the environment.

Like many of our African counterparts, Cape Town has its challenges. Small spaces, big families, inadequate infrastructure and social decay. Unique problems call for unique solutions. Whether it is a bunk bed where eight people can have each a space to sleep on at night, designing a 36-meter squared house, or providing temporary shelter in creative shipping containers after disaster strikes ... creative Capetonians use these challenges to create authentic solutions which result in the ongoing development of a sophisticated design community that annually finds its way to Design Indaba – Africa’s greatest design event held in Cape Town, and recognised across the globe.

Cape Town’s International Convention Centre is today acknowledged as the most successful convention centre in Africa and is realistically positioned to join the world’s ‘top seven’ within the next decade. Through hosting world conventions on anything from trade and investment to food, publishing and design, this Centre puts Cape Town on the international knowledge map, linking the city to ideas, trends and issues which affect the entire globe.

Cape Town is fast-becoming known as the gateway to Antarctica, as increasing numbers of international teams use Cape Town as their base for setting off for the Antarctic which is in turn extremely valuable to the local economy. It has meant that the City has built up expertise in this area which has resulted, for example, in Halley VI, a new British Antarctic Base destined ultimately for the icy continent, being built in Cape Town at a cost of R280 million.

The University of Cape Town along with its Business School, the University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Western Cape together with our other institutions of higher learning, deliver world-class education and research, and draw in academics from all over Africa and the world.

These cutting-edge institutions are dynamically engaged in producing African solutions to Africa’s unique political, technical and infrastructural challenges.

In Cape Town, the range of people and projects aimed at implementing the City’s vision for cultural transformation is ever-growing, ever-evolving - and forever in pursuit of outstanding design in whatever discipline, or shape, that design ultimately finds its form.

Out of Africa, always something new. Out of Cape Town, always something inspirational.

View the presentation.