Cape Town’s future is made every day out of the individual creative actions of ordinary people, says Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana.
Cape Town - Two weeks ago I wrote: “Can we, as Capetonians, co-create the city we want to live in?” The question has remained with me. Cape Town is currently in peak “creative season” – one of my favourite times of year.
It’s a time when the city is brimming with smart ideas and buzzing with upbeat, design-minded young people – locals and visitors. There’s a palpable sense of possibility in the air. Even the weather seems optimistic. How we ensure that this energy is felt from town to township within our city is a question that has always occupied me.
How do we involve all Capetonians in our commitment to create an engaged society across social and economic barriers? I believe there are a number of projects that are bridging this divide this year.
This year has the added creative potential of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 designation – the first African city to take up the title. As chief executive of the Cape Town Partnership, the organisation that spearheaded Cape Town’s bid, I was closely involved in crafting our city’s World Design Capital motto, “Live Design. Transform Life”.
The urban activist (and town planner) in me was truly excited by the possibilities of using the World Design Capital designation to create a more humane, caring and resilient Cape Town. I envisioned design as a practical approach to problem-solving that could (and should) become accessible to all people, whatever their economic, social or cultural circumstances, and whatever their age – a handy tool with many useful applications.
Just over two months into our World Design Capital Year, I am hopeful and excited. I believe passionately that Cape Town’s future is made every day out of the individual creative actions of ordinary Capetonians, and I am inspired by a vision of what we can become as a city – together.
Last week I was lucky enough to be part of the Design Indaba conference and expo, which celebrates “a better world through creativity”, setting an upbeat tone for Cape Town’s 2014 calendar. It was great to see the strong emphasis at this year’s expo on creative ways of effecting social change.
The inspiring Africa is Now exhibit showcased resourceful and creative solutions to the daily challenges faced on the continent, while the “Better Living Challenge” – a project launched by the Cape Craft and Design Institute as part of the Western Cape Design Strategy roll-out – calls on people across the country to come up with ideas for viable home improvements in resource-constrained communities.
The City of Cape Town presented a simple illustrated exhibit that invited visitors, young and old, to discover how design-led thinking is changing our city. I noticed, in particular, how many children were drawn to the stand – a generation of design-savvy problem-solvers and active citizens in the making?
One of the most inspiring examples of town and township, proactivity and creativity coming together to improve lives and bridge divides in Cape Town is the #ANOTHERLIGHTUP project, which aims to fund the installation of a streetlight system in one of Cape Town’s more vulnerable neighbourhoods by empowering individuals to be change agents.
Cape Town-based street artist Faith47, local design company Thingking and the Design Indaba Trust have collaborated to create a multistorey artwork on the side of a block of flats, visible from De Waal Drive, that lights up at night each time enough money is raised for one new street light to be installed on a pathway in Monwabisi Park, through the organisation Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading.
The ultimate goal of #ANOTHERLIGHTUP is to raise enough money to install 80 street lights, at R7 000 apiece. Public donations of more than R100 can be made on the project website, www.anotherlightup.com, and those donating R5 000 or more receive a limited-edition signed print of the artwork.
The wall can also be lit up momentarily by tweeting #ANOTHERLIGHTUP to raise awareness of the project, and I would like to encourage you to do your bit to keep the light on.
For me it was particularly telling that the #ANOTHERLIGHTUP project was given a special mention at the Design Indaba conference by Tom Hulme, design director of US-based innovation and design firm IDEO.
With its human-centred approach to design, IDEO has been ranked one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Companies in the world. Clearly, Cape Town’s socially conscious creatives are doing work that is locally groundbreaking and globally significant.
Last week also saw the announcement of the prestigious World Design Impact Prize for 2013-14 at the first official signature event in Cape Town’s Word Design Capital year. The biennial prize was created to stimulate socially responsible design projects around the world, and is an initiative of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design – founders of the World Design Capital designation.
The shortlisted projects highlighted the potential for design to transform lives, and so it was fitting that the awards formed part of Cape Town’s official World Design Capital programme – being implemented by a dedicated agency, Cape Town Design NPC, with committed chief executive Alayne Reesberg at the helm.
Throughout the World Design Impact Prize awards ceremony I was reminded of the possibility of finding creative solutions to cruel problems. The awards attracted 26 projects from across the globe, and the shortlisted projects were inspiring and sobering. The runners-up were The Refugee Housing Unit – a hardy, humane modular shelter that can be delivered in flat packs (developed by a subsidiary of the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation, together with the IKEA Foundation and the UN Refugee Agency) – and the Leveraged Freedom Chair, which uses bicycle technology to create a wheelchair that can move over rough terrain.
The overall winner was the ABC Syringe, a behaviour-changing syringe that turns red to indicate that the needle has already been used – the World Health Organisation estimates that over 40 percent of injections worldwide are given with unsterilised syringe needles.
Solution-seeking South Africans will soon have an incentive to apply their minds to social problems via the “by DESIGN Awards”, a World Design Capital legacy project that was launched directly after the World Design Impact Prize announcement.
Like the Better Living Challenge, the competition forms part of the roll-out of the Western Cape government’s design strategy, and is being run by the Cape Craft and Design Institute. It will include a wide range of categories aimed at stimulating change, encouraging development and rewarding innovation in South Africa. Nominations open on August 1 and close on October 31.
A creative initiative that has already captured the public imagination of Capetonians is The Street Store, a collaborative project between Cape Town-based advertising agency M&C Saatchi Abel and the Haven Night Shelter Welfare Organisation, who joined forces to create a pop-up shop on the street, offering free donated clothes to the homeless. The clever concept allows an ordinary pavement or fence to be easily turned into a shop display, through a series of multifunctional cardboard posters that double as clothes hangers.
Citizens are encouraged to bring unwanted clothes and shoes directly to The Street Shop venue, where those in need can browse and select items, helped by volunteer “shop assistants”. The project is open-source, so anyone can set up a Street Store. It’s as easy as going to www.thestreetstore.org, printing out the posters and setting up shop on a pavement in your neighbourhood.
I have no doubt this Cape Town initiative will spread to other cities across the globe.
Creativity will continue to spill on to the city’s streets next week, when the Infecting The City festival takes up Cape Town’s creative mantle from March 10-15. Run by the Africa Centre, the free street festival “challenges people to connect with each other and their city, through art”.
In cities, public spaces play an important role in reflecting a sense of place. They are the meeting places and crossroads for all the people who use the city. While city officials and central improvement districts can keep these spaces clean and safe, it’s the people who use them who shape and animate them – bringing them to life.
Public space asks for co-operative ownership and participation. As South Africans, we have perhaps not yet fully embraced the sense that public space really does belong to us. After years of segregation and separation, there is no clear code between us that allows us to share these spaces easily.
How can we ensure that we, as Capetonians, see our public spaces as places that we own – spaces where we can find each other, exchange ideas and interact in a city struggling to find its own social cohesion? How can we involve more people in the process of co-creating a better city? How can design help us to bridge the current city and the future city we want to see? How are you getting involved in your neighbourhood?
At the Cape Town Partnership we are inspired by the words of the late American tennis legend and social activist Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are, do what you can, use what you have.”
It really is possible!
Talk to me @darksjokolade
* Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana is chief executive of the Cape Town Partnership. This is the second in a fortnightly series of columns.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.