0.1 – Getting ready to meet Cape Town

It’s about to happen, my first contact with the north-south collaboration. Although Cape Town, and South Africa altogether, has been a partner for Finland for quite some time, the World Design Capital connection is fresh and built in a novel way. Torino, Seoul and Helsinki are all in the exclusive club of having had the privilege to host World Design Capital for a year and now Cape Town is about to join the group in 2014. The most interesting aspect of this series of biennial events is that all cities had different themes that came out to be the winners from all the WDC applications and, in addition, all of these magnificent cities have a different design heritage.

I’m a student of Creative Sustainability in Aalto University. I used to study industrial design, and with a fresh graduation paper in hand became a self-hating designer because of what I saw that most of my kind did to the world. I was about to quit the game but still had hope that I could also affect the way things were, and was going to be. I knew I wasn’t fully insane with my beliefs, and this was proven to be so when I got accepted to CS master program and met my colleagues. From having a design background, that still to me is one of the most effective tools in problem solving, I started to dig deeper into societal issues and social change. It led me to mingle among all Aalto schools and even to study a minor in sociology in Helsinki University. I also interned at a think tank and worked as a producer at the World Design Capital Helsinki Pavilion. Now I’m a member of the team Aalto, WDC and Aalto Global Impact going to South Africa to see what opportunities lies in deepening the collaboration, now and in the future.

I took part in an Aalto University event a few weeks back where Aalto capped their WDC activities under the topic Living+. I was a member of the panel that commented on what we, as different individuals, thought were the best things to take with us to Cape Town – and also what could we take back with us. Cape Town’s pitch for 2014 event was articulated around three highly important themes: knowledge economy, infrastructural development and social cohesion. The discussion, even after the official panel, stayed in the lines of Open Helsinki themes compared to Cape Town’s and the different design heritage both cities had. It was almost about the efforts and worthiness of the title. Someone threw the question in the air: how come Cape Town? What kind of a design heritage do they have? To which I replied, in my head, that it’s not about what they have now to be a WDC, but it should be more about do they need it – and I’d say from an outsider’s perspective that they can, with their themes do a lot with it.

“It is not a matter of worthiness but more about what difference their voice can bring to the dialog; what mutual learnings can we all take away from interacting with each other. I believe Finland can learn a lot from a contextual point of view when observing the historical and cultural background as well as the social cohesion issues that South Africa and Cape Town have as a national heritage. Helsinki and its growing community of immigrants can learn from cities which have had to deal with differences and social divides. How can a modern city like Helsinki avoid the stigmatisation of its population through its urban planning policy? i.e. how to avoid using concentrated areas of low income habitations which automatically brings societal and community divides? By observing other societies, one can enrich its own perspective.” -Anne Badan, Philanthropic & Soci(et)al Impact Designer / Strategic & Partnerships Manager at Aalto Global Impact.

To us when someone says design, we think of the 50’s design golden era and the monumental masterpieces created here back then – when designers were heroes of handcrafts. I mean, back in the 50’s our masters gave the world what it needed and we’re still – thank god – known for that. But the world and its needs change and so does the efforts of designers trying to fulfill those needs. Open Helsinki, which was the theme umbrella of WDC Helsinki, worked well and did make us open to better understand our plurality in design circles but also the society at large around us. There is still a market for old masters but also a growing need of new forms and solutions of designers. What if there was a society, a society for future, with a lot of needs but also with a lot of resources and free choice how to use these resources in building their future with design as a tool? Who knows to which heights in a society where – different from us – they can have a modest but a clean slate of building their design heritage from scratch to aim it to today’s societal needs? What if there was a World Design Capital Cape Town?

Let’s go and see if there is one.

Aalto Global Impact