Official launch of The Fringe: Cape Town’s Innovation District

The design and informatics hub planned for the area in Cape Town City Centre known as the East City finally has a name: The Fringe: Cape Town’s Innovation District. Previously known as the East City Design Initiative, the project has been in a concept planning phase since 2007 when a range of stakeholders began to engage government on the need to support innovation and development in the design, media and information and communication technology (ICT) sectors.

After a favourable interim business feasibility study by research firm Kaiser Associates recently showed what possibilities setting up such a district could have for growth in these sectors, the decision was taken to rename the project and formulate an institutional vehicle to drive it forward.   

The vision has been to create “the premier African environment for design, media and ICT innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship” and the project is heavily supported by the Provincial Government of the Western Cape’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism through its Cape Catalyst Initiative. The department has recognised the importance of various creative industries in growing the provincial economy through relevant infrastructure.  The project is also supported by a number of departments in the City of Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Faculty of Informatics and Design (CPUT’s FID) and other civil society bodies. It is currently being project managed by Cape Town Partnership through its Creative Cape Town programme and is an important component of the city’s 2014 World Design Capital bid.

The key boundaries of the area are Roeland and Darling Streets, Buitenkant and Canterbury Streets, and the area also includes a strip of land that connects it to CPUT from Longmarket through to Tennant Street. It borders onto the proposed District Six development, and the area’s oftentimes neglected “edge” or “fringe” relationship with the city has given the project its new name. The area’s development will by necessity need to be a careful mix of public and private investments – the details of which are currently being researched. 

The Fringe is based on an urban “science park” model. A science park is defined by the International Association of Science Parks as “an organisation managed by specialised professionals, whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of its associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions”. It is understood that this requires a strong relationship between “universities, R&D [research and development] institutions, companies and markets” leading to “incubation and spin-off processes” and providing “other value-added services together with high-quality space and facilities” to stimulate economic growth. Successful models the area will be benchmarked against include 22@Barcelona, the Toronto Fashion Incubator and Design London, among others.

The area proposed for The Fringe is already a happening environment. It is currently home to two sector bodies – the Cape Craft & Design Institute (CCDI) and the Cape Fashion Council (both set up with government and private sector involvement to further sector development in the province). The organisations have jointly opened a new facility in Harrington Street that houses a Creative Enterprise Training Unit. The area is also home to Open Innovation Studios, a social entrepreneurship environment, as well as a range of small- and medium-sized design and ICT firms. Most importantly, the presence of various design-related educational institutions nearby – in particular CPUT’s FID – makes this an environment ready for the science park model. 

The area is rapidly growing with The Granary, an important heritage building currently receiving a makeover as a creative hub. Their key tenant, Bandwidth Barn (BWB), is expected to take more than 2 000m2 from September this year. BWB has been supporting the ICT sector since 2000 and is an internationally recognised and highly successful business incubation facility. This facility’s move to The Granary will cement the environment as an important space for growing entrepreneurship, and more incubators, sector service bodies and educational institutions are sure to be attracted to the area over the next two years. The highly successful Johannesburg-based Big Fish School of Digital Filmmaking plans to move to the area later this year.

An important element of modern-day science parks are cafés, bars and other venues for networking, and the area is already blessed with many of these: The Field Office, Charly’s Bakery, Dias Tavern, 38 Special, The Assembly, Que Pasa, The Book Lounge, and the Kimberley Hotel, to name a few. Proposals for relevant public space improvements have been made to increase the potential for such an environment, and work well in the interests of The Fringe mandate.

A particularly exciting initiative proposed for the area is what is currently called the “Temporary Incubator Hub”. Designed by award-winning Cape Town-based architect Luyanda Mpahlwa with Ameena Desai from Design Space Africa, this entrepreneurial support hub is aimed at the design and media sector and looks to create an interactive networking environment for young designers. 

For more information on The Fringe: Cape Town’s Innovation District, contact Yehuda Raff at yehuda@capetownpartnership.co.za or +27 (0)21 419 1881.

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