Sydney has been shortlisted by the World Design Organization (WDO) as one of three global cities to be named as their next World Design Capital in 2020. 

Competing with the French city of Lille, if successful, Sydney is on track to become the first Australian city to receive this award. 

Picked every two years by the Montreal-based WDO, the award is given to a city that ‘advances design-led innovation to progress its economic, social, cultural and environmental development.’ 

“We see leadership as an exercise in design. We see design as a tool - a means of imagining and crafting a future rooted in people and place. We see design as a platform for engagement - able to span across traditional boundaries to uncover fresh ideas, new ways of looking at things and new opportunities to co-create a better future,” says Tim Horton, registrar for the New South Wales Architect’s Registration Board and member of Design Sydney. 

“We see design as a means to generate new value with purpose and impact and we believe Sydney can be a lighthouse city for the world to embody these ideals.”

“Globally, we are seeing design-led thinking being leveraged to help solve some very complex challenges and Sydney has no shortage of these. While we are blessed with one of the world’s most beautiful cities, we also have some big challenges that need to be solved to make our city more liveable and resilient,” said Brandon Gien, CEO of Good Design Australia and past president of the WDO.

And it’s not just about laurels and accolades - there are some tangible economic benefits for the winner.

“In 2014, Capetown found a two and a half times return on investment. For Sydney, an $8 million program should net a return of $20million plus for the greater metropolitan region,” says Horton.

 “Lille and Sydney share an ambition. We see it as friendly rivalry but ultimately the decision is for the world design organization. A lot will ride on how the city gets behind this bid,” he says.

As to why it has taken almost nine years for an Australian city to be nominated, Horton says it’s all about the size and complexity of the nomination process.

“One look at the 400-page bid document shows you the breadth and depth of generous support for this bid.”

While the scale and potential of the transformation in western Sydney over the next five years is genuinely world class, “there is still work to do,” says Horton.

“We've grown lopsided. The opportunity for us is to use this three - year project to share what we're doing, and learn from those who are there too.”

“A design-led approach embraced by government, business and industry will play a critical role in shaping a better future for our city.” 

“At one level,” he says, “all Australian cities can take something from this bid - if Sydney is successful we hope it will be a resource for Melbourne, Brisbane, Wollongong, Newcastle, Canberra and beyond.”

First launched in 2008, the World Design Capital has been awarded to Seoul in 2010, Helsinki in 2012, Cape Town in 2014 and Taipei in 2016. Mexico City will be the next World Design Capital in 2018. 

Shortlisted cities are evaluated by an international panel of experts with the winning city announced at the WDO’s General Assembly in Torino in Italy on 15-16 October later this year.