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.

From 2012 to 2014: What winning World Design Capital meant for Helsinki

Pekka Timonen is executive director of World Design Capital 2012 in Helsinki. He took some time to explain what winning World Design Capital has meant for Helsinki, its development, and Finland as a whole.

What has winning World Design Capital 2012 meant for Helsinki?

"Helsinki found that while we have a great design heritage, we got the bid to help us go beyond our current standard to the next level. We were given a chance to embed design in life, to put it into cultural, socio-economic aspects of the city.

"Design is now part of Helsinki's city strategy, the metropolitan strategy and the central government strategy. 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.

"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 wellbeing and competitiveness is created by a good design environment."

What happens now that Cape Town has won?

"Ok, well, when you get designated as World Design Capital, what happens actually is the usual thing - you have a great party and you get everything out of it and pretty soon you realise that there's lots of work to be done. So first thing is, as soon as possible, get to work. World Design Capital is a very interesting thing - it's only two years to get prepared, far shorter than any other major international global designation. If you compare it to the World Cup or the European Capital of Culture or other things, well, usually they have a longer time to prepare. With World Design Capital there is no time to waste.

"Secondly, it's very important to get everyone with you, everybody on the bus. Even though that takes time, even though it's difficult, we have found it very valuable: World Design Capital is about transformation through being a better city. You cannot do it with a top down approach. You have to have both bottom up and top down."

How did Helsinki ensure everybody was on the (design) bus?

"We had open calls, we had idea days, we had gatherings where people got together, and of course we had a very active online presence. And still I feel today that we could have done better, that we could have done more, because it's never enough. So that's one thing, getting people on the bus: 'World Design Capital is coming! Join us.'

"The beauty of World Design Capital is that it grows from the inside of the community. It grows from the city itself and that means that you have to give it room. There is no manual of how to be World Design Capital... so you have to find a way that it fits for Cape Town.

"What's also so amazing - and I've noticed this is happening in Cape Town and South Africa - all of a sudden people who have never thought about the possibility of design are interested, from politicians to business leaders, community activists to individual citizens. They have an opportunity to get excited about it and that-s coalition: What can design do for me, what can design help achieve.

"This is something that World Design Capital really does and in that sense it creates a legacy. It's not just one year or one major event. Those things don't just stop when it's over. It's more like a start and not an end in itself. This is the start of something: Don't look back."

What are the benefits of being World Design Capital?

"It's not about what World Design Capital can do for you (as someone in Cape Town), in getting more help, but what you can do for World Design Capital. What actions, what things can be done when we are the World Design Capital? I found that people feel very inspired about that. People outside the design community - at least in Helsinki - found this a very interesting possibility, a good reason to be involved.

"And it's not only about design, it's actually an opportunity to think out of the box and come out with something you have been thinking about for a long time - for example, World Design Capital programme items that aren't traditionally designed, but they are inspired by the title and they belong to this movement. And that's tough: you never know how you'll succeed."

What do you think of Cape Town's bid?

"I think it's really great that Cape Town made it all the way. First of all, I liked your bid a lot, and the idea of how you transform the city and how you encourage the city to change itself - it's very close to Helsinki's bid. Of course, we are different cities: We are up north, you are very south (luckily we are in the same time zone so we will have convenient collaboration). But even then all cities in the world are dealing with the same question, of segregation - how to avoid segregation, how to provide a good life for the people in the city, how to solve issues like traffic problems, education, public services - this stuff's no different.

"What I liked about your World Design Capital bid was the holistic approach and that it showed a connected city. It clearly stipulating the starting point, 'This is where we are and this is where we're moving.' I remember when we were doing our bid and planning the year we understood that World Design Capital first and foremost is something moving. You have to have it planned - the designation is the start of the process. It's the aiming process, and if it's successful you'll go where you're aiming at. And you communicated that very well, showing that there are things you can do that can have a major significance.

"You also had a very broad understanding of what design can do, not the traditional view on what design is. That's always more interesting, that raises a question.

"Around your bid there was a certain level of professionalism. You have both your design community that is already mature, but also you have experience of organising and hosting major things, the World Cup being one of those things. I know how international organisations think and they have to be sure that there is a professional team and attitude behind organising things, and you also communicated that very well - and we know you can do it."

Any advice as Cape Town embarks on its journey to 2014 and beyond?

"The media coverage that you will receive... we were being overwhelmed by it. It's bigger than we ever thought. Our communications people realised that this year they had taken care of more than 500 international journalists. That's more than one per day on average. And you will get that in Cape Town too. I'm sure about that.

"And that'll create tension too. That's the balance: You have to get people with it, you have to find local motivation and of course not everyone is with you. But you are a global inspiration. Suddenly media that had previously been ignoring you are now interested in you and your messaging. The problem with this in our case was that it is a lot of work: programmes have to be created. And who does this? Rely on the community. It's not you or your organisation who does it, it's your city and the fine people inside of it. They know things, they know the people who can help.

"Also, it's not going to happen overnight. The designation can speed up good momentum and lead and link resources. You want to use this project to go somewhere. Many cities have a showcase, but that's not the idea. The idea is that you transform, that you move and progress somehow.

"In the case of Cape Town what really makes me happy is that I know that you're going to do it great. It's going to put you on the map of the design-driven cities of the world. It'll put you into a unique position."

Interested in what World Design Capital in Helsinki, 2012 is all about? Go to

Image: Valterri Hirvonen, Eriksson & Company