The DESIGNING_democracy seminar forms part of the initial discussions and lays the foundations for DESIGNING_SOUTHAFRICA’s Designing Democracy programme. With South Africa continuously facing challenges in providing adequate housing, education and health specifically to the underprivileged majority, it is through design that these challenges become enticing briefs for creative minds to collaborate with specialists and develop social solutions.
DESIGNING_SOUTHAFRICA has identified an opportunity for design in its most diverse forms to assist in shaping a more equitable, resilient and socially empowered South Africa.
The DESIGNING_democracy seminar facilitated by Zahira Asmal, which took place on 29 August 2013 during Open Design Cape Town, formed part of the discussions that demonstrated that realising our democracy, as a product of design is an important step in creating an inclusive and integrated nation. We invited a diverse and influential group of experts to explore and discuss ways good design may impact their respective sectors. Topics covered: City making, Identity, Healthcare, Housing, Service Delivery and Education.
Professor Edgar Pieterse (African Centre for Cities) and Sithole Mbanga (SA Cities Network) kicked off the seminar with their perspectives on how designing of cities play an important role in the design of a democracy especially with 64% of South Africa’s population living in cities – democracies are played out and challenged everyday in our urban centers. Edgar commenced with a bold statement: DESIGN WILL NOT SAVE THE CITY with Sithole countering his statement by saying that design will not save the city on it’s own and that design should interpret aspirations of citizens to translate ideas into usable actions for local government.
Aditya Kumar (SDI Alliance) followed by showcasing the importance of designing services and how important informal settlements are within the city landscape and how these also need to be strongly considered from the perspective of design in order to create functional and practical spaces. He emphasised that communities have an intrinsic desire to contribute to their well-being and that freedom to design their own future is vital. It is thus important that key community stakeholders be given the tools to facilitate this process.
Nick Shepherd (Centre for African Studies – University of Cape Town) questioned: Can we redesign our identity? What does this mean for Cape Town – the world’s most divided city? He showcased Cape Town as a city of many histories and how these histories all play a vital part in the layered and disparate identity of the city. He concluded by saying, “If we settle for a banal version of the past, we accept a banal version of the future.”
Thorsten Deckler (26’10 south Architects) discussed his project [IN]formal Studios: Marlboro South in line with the importance of designing housing. He explained how community residents in the area took ownership in designing their neighbourhoods thus developing valuable skills and creating better, safer spaces to live in. It was a lesson in how engagement and continuity are important for sustained skills development.
Discussing how design can play a part in healthcare, Harry Hausler (TB/HIV Care Association) showed how the poor design of healthcare facilities related to patients being unable to receive the efficient healthcare. He explained that it was also the design of health services that needed to be improved, taking infection control and medication dispensation into consideration. The talk sparked interesting questions around pop-up clinics for certain neighbourhoods making healthcare more accessible.
Brad Brockman (Equal Education) talked about minimum norms and standards, and how the inequality in education is still rooted in South Africa’s historical inequalities, showing that only 55% of schools in South Africa are seen to meet the basic standards of education. His talk concluded with a statement from Sithole explaining that when it comes to problems facing education, there were numerous governmental departments at play, in addition to the Department of Education, and these need to be considered in designing better education.