Making a city together

OPEN DESIGN - Open Design Afrika Wetopia Inspiration Day, Castle of Good Hope. Cape Town. Photo: Dwayne Senior for Open Design /Marvello & Mill

Joke Quintens

By Joke Quintens, on December 19th, 2019

> Read Joke Quintens's articles

The first Wetopia Academy in Cape Town

From 18 to 27th October 2019 we started the first Wetopia Academy during Open Design Afrika in Cape Town (ZA). With interventions and workshops in the townships, inspiration days with local and international ‘Wetopians’ and a learning program for policy makers, we actively stimulate new ways to make a city together.

As a field expert and former deputy mayor of a city, I am increasingly convinced that sustainable change is only possible if we make a city together. I call this Wetopia, where policy makers (politicians, civil servants, community leaders, companies and institutions) and civil society (citizens, city makers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists and scientists) join forces in new alliances to develop new, sustainable solutions. And, I am also convinced that we can learn this. That’s why, together with Sune Stassen, director of Open Design Afrika, Marco Morgan and Kevin Kimwelle, all very experienced with working in the communities and Dolf Nijsen, from Fontys school, we set up this first Wetopia Academy.

Community activations

During a two-day workshop in the Castle of Good Hope, we brought residents of the townships of Langa and Kensington together. The facilitation was done by the motivated team of the D-school in Cape Town. The residents used design thinking to co-create new narratives for their township. The ideas that emerged from this, such as setting up community radio, the organisation of games between the townships or starting a leadership program for community leaders, will be further developed.

Artists also supported with community activations. Sander Van Bussel added 60 letters of his Human Rights Tattoo on the skin of 60 inhabitants of Langa. And street artist Mundano from Brazil worked in the townships with the waste pickers but also with activists from Reclaim the City who occupy two vacant buildings.


On the 21st of October, in the presence of the mayor of Cape Town, Dan Plato, the Wetopia Inspiration Day took place. With various speakers from Africa, Europe and South America, inspiring examples of making cities together, were shared. Because Wetopia already exists in various places around the world, where people from different backgrounds form new alliances in order to tackle the most diverse challenges in a new way. There were remarkable stories by Michael Uwemedino of The Human City Project in Port Harcourt Nigeria, by Julia Kamuiro of the Living Lab Nairobi in Kenya, or by Julien Vever of Yes We Camp and Les Grands Voisins in Paris. The 15 inspiring speakers and the public co-created new possibilites and ideas. That is what happens when you bring Wetopians together.

The Wetopia Learning Program

Wetopia or ‘making a city together’ can be learned. At the Wetopia Academy we offer a 10 month training for 15 policy makers. In the meantime, a number of master classes have taken place in collaboration with the City of Cape Town and Iclei Africa and seminars with CAPP, a civic initiative. The students of the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg also started working on a number of activations in Cape Town in the week of 4th November. In the next 10 months the curriculum will be further rolled out and in June 2020 the first results will follow.

Wetopians unite

In Wetopia the city is made together. This is mainly done by just doing. With interventions in the city we stimulate collaboration and the creation of new alliances between policymakers and civil society. Wetopia is a living lab where we work in the field and connect people with projects, where we search, experiment, discover and inspire in order to create a new form of democracy, in which everyone plays a role and takes responsibility. With this, we are also working on all Sustainable Development Goals with a specific focus on SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities.

I believe that every city in the world deserves a Wetopia Academy. But, the very first one will always have taken place in Cape Town and could serve as an inspiring example to adapt to another context.

Leave a Reply