When Cape Town won the World Design Capital mantle for 2014, the Executive Mayor made a promise that posed a very real challenge to the internal WDC team.
Within greater Cape Town, there are 111 wards. During World Design Capital 2014, the Mayor promised, “design will touch every ward” in the metropole. The diversity within the Cape Town metropolitan area is dazzling. There are informal shacklands where the default construction material is corrugated iron, mere kilometres away from centuries-old farm homesteads. There are suburbs of tidy bungalows with dinky swimming pools, windswept, desert-like flatlands where no tree grows, mountainside homes overlooking vineyards, and apartments with never-ending ocean views. The City’s WDC team was scratching their heads. What kind of design-led interventions would give value to the residents of every one of those 111 wards?
There was no additional budget with which to deliver new projects, and – apart from the tiny WDC team – no extra resources. We found our answer in the “housekeeping money” (“ward allocation budget”) which, each fiscal year, is allocated to each Ward. This money is intended for spending on small improvements: traffic calming measures, park upgrades and the like. What if, we thought, we could develop mechanisms to help subcouncil structures and their line department counterparts to engage design and design-led thinking in spending these budgets? And what if these mechanisms at the same time unlocked creativity and capacitated citizens to better understand design, giving them a platform to become actively involved in the future of their public realm?
And so we launched a series of co-creation workshops. We invited ward councillors to propose problem statements in their areas that would benefit from a co-creation process and with the help of consultants who are acknowledged experts in the field of mixed-stakeholder large group interventions, we developed a methodology aimed at extracting maximum value out of this design-led approach to public participation. We pulled into day-long workshops stakeholders from across the spectrum – residents and business people, councillors and appropriate line departments, NGOs, other interested parties and designers. And then, with lots of time given to understanding the problem statement – the history, problems and opportunities presented by the site – and with a good lunch thrown in, our groups of sometimes more than 100 people set about defining universal design principles and co-creating potential solutions in three dimensions.
What emerges from these workshops is a series of designs – some weird and wacky, some alarmingly conservative and most simply heart-warming – that reflects the real needs and imaginations of the community. And there are all sorts of unexpected outcomes too, such as exposing designers to the realities of social design, awakening an often dormant sense of active citizenship among participants, and reminding City officials of the rich value public participation can offer. As unglamorous as it may be, it’s an astonishingly powerful process.
Check out this video: City of Cape Town Co Design Workshops