San Diego/Tijuana wins World Design Capital, defeating Moscow

San Diego and Tijuana have been selected as a World Design Captial.
Michele Morris from the UCSD Design Lab and Carlos Cristiani speak to guests during a San Diego-Tijuana World Design Capital showcase party at The Rady Shell in Downtown San Diego on Oct. 3. San Diego and Tijuana have won their joint bid to become a “World Design Capital”. A winner is selected every two years by the World Design Organization.
(Sandy Huffaker/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The bi-national proposal won over judges from the World Design Organization.


San Diego and Tijuana have won their joint bid to become a World Design Capital.

The two cities were selected together as the 2024 city, defeating the other finalist Moscow, the Montreal-based World Design Organization announced Wednesday morning.

The distinction means a global spotlight with a year of events to promote the region, including a street festival, a one-day celebration highlighting the winner’s designs and a design conference that should bring people from around the globe. In addition to putting the region on the world stage, it is also expected to be a boost to the tourism industry hit hard by the pandemic.

Previous design capitals have been Seoul, Helsinki, Cape Town, Taipei and Mexico City. This bid was unique in that a binational region decided to apply together and marks the first time a binational region has won.

“The San Diego-Tijuana bid showcases the power of design to unite and connect us, despite geographical differences,” wrote World Design Capital President Srini Srinivasan. “Their culture of design innovation and unique urban landscape were well-represented throughout their bid, and the region is poised to develop a WDC programme that will serve as a model for other border cities around the world.”

San Diego and Tijuana rolled out the red carpet in October for the design organization’s managing director, Bertrand Derome. In San Diego he visited the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, UC San Diego’s Design and Innovation building, Balboa Park and Chicano Park. In Tijuana, he went to the Bujazán Cinema, Playas de Tijuana’s Friendship Park, the circular Tijuana Cultural Center and was treated to local cuisine at the Tijuana Culinary Art School.

A keystone of the entire tour was the Cross Border Xpress, or CBX, facility that allows travelers out of Tijuana’s airport to easily cross to the United States and vice versa.

The competition goes beyond just buildings and also looks at how cities use design to create change to improve the quality of life for its citizens. He said that can be in an environmental, cultural, social or economic way.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said he hoped the designation would go a long way in changing the perception of the border region among the media and faraway politicians that paint it in a bad light.

“The border is often portrayed as a negative,” he said from Glasgow, where he is attending a climate change conference. “For those of us that live here in the border region, we see it for what it is: An asset.”

Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero said in a statement that the cities should be known for more than just being the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere.

“Our designation as a World Design Capital is an opportunity for us to highlight to the world the unique interconnectedness of our region,” she wrote, “and tell the story of 7 million people who live, work, and partner together in exceptional ways.”

The local effort was spearheaded by the San Diego-based Design Forward Alliance, which said the cost to cover fees is being covered by corporate donations and a GoFundMe campaign that is still raising money. There are several groups that partnered with the alliance on the effort, including the Burnham Center for Community Advancement and UC San Diego Design Lab.

“This is about showing the world that we are more than just a border or two border cities,” Michèle Morris, president of the alliance, said in a news release. “We are one regional home to 7 million people who are more alike than they are different and who partner in many incredible and groundbreaking ways.”

The cost of the bid is a bit difficult to calculate because it is mainly built upon thousands of volunteer hours and donated space. But, the fees to apply to the World Design Organization include a $10,000 Canadian dollar application ($7,943 in U.S. dollars) and another $25,000 Canadian dollars ($19,859 USD) for cities that make the final short list. The winner must pay a $600,000 Canadian dollar ($476,631 USD) hosting fee over the next three years.

Gloria said San Diego would not be contributing direct funds to the bid (same with Tijuana) but that it will be handled by private donations and organizers. However, he said the city will be likely offering a lot of in-kind services, such as the use of space, and possibly speeding up projects around the region to be ready for 2024.

Winning the bid means a lot of work for organizers, as well as fundraising. Photos from the 2010 Design Capital year show a massive circular installation in the heart of Seoul.

The World Design Organization didn’t say why it chose San Diego/Tijuana over Moscow. In its news release, the organization said it would use the bid to serve as a model for other border cities, hinting that the cross-border approach was a good one.

Moscow highlighted new skyscrapers, rich history, younger designers, its new Moscow City Business Center (which took nearly 30 years to come to fruition), and its recently completed Floating Bridge, a structure near Red Square that hangs over the Moskva River like a boomerang.

Gloria said he felt San Diego/Tijuana did a good job showing what the design organization was looking for when speculating why it won over Moscow.

“It’s not about flash, it’s about design and design-based solutions to a community’s challenges,” he said.

Estimates of the financial benefit of being selected a design capital range in the millions of dollars. Another benefit is changing how people feel about their own city. In a report after Taipei, Taiwan won the honor in 2016, organizers said 72 percent of residents were proud that the city was made a design capital.

In its proposal, San Diego/Tijuana said the theme was HOME (Human-Centered, Open, Multidisciplinary/Multicultural, Experimental). A full list of all partners and supporters is available on the bid’s website.