Not so fast

Kim Gurney

Cape Town’s WDC bid is locally funded but it plays to a number of western assumptions and discourses, not all favourable.

“We can and should control!” The unexpected declaration by a supposed security guard was all the more surprising in a freethinking art school. She stood for a moment, in her formal attire and stiff pose, before exiting the room and leaving bemused viewers to London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) June degree show. The relief was short-lived. Several minutes later, she peered from the upper level to proclaim: “I take no risks!” This performance piece reflected a preoccupation among graduating students with security and private versus public space.

Such issues are of global concern. Safety is one repeated quality-of-life metric in popular indices about what makes a city most liveable. The results tend to favour a particular kind of place. The Economist has ranked Vancouver in pole position for five straight years. Readers of the Financial Times recently rated Istanbul while Monocle magazine thought Helsinki tops. What such polls fail to measure is the vibrancy more chaotic megacities offer, according to FT journalist Edwin Heathcote. “In a strange way the conflict with the (unliveable) city can also become part of the attraction,” he wrote in a March article. “If everybody is where they want to be, nobody is going anywhere.”

The latest shortlist for the World Design Capital (WDC) touches upon this interesting tension. The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design makes the award every two years. Helsinki, Monocle’s top city, is preparing for a year of events as 2012 titleholder. But the newsflash is that Cape Town is competing against Dublin and Bilbao for the 2014 honour. It is of course very significant to be an African shortlisted city, but this fact also cues a potential schism in expectations between the first and developing world around what design can and should achieve. login to read full article

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