Ready to know more about San Diego?


Designing the Future of San Diego and Tijuana

San Diego and Tijuana together are 2024’s World Design Capital—a first for a pair of cities—offering a global platform of growth by design for our border region
Courtesy of Friends of San Diego Architecture
San Diego Tijuana World Design Capital Friends of San Diego Architecture

San Diego Tijuana World Design Capital Friends of San Diego Architecture

Courtesy of Friends of San Diego Architecture

It’s a tale of two cities, but not how you think. In place of Dickensian polarization, civic solidarity and fashionable functionality. Every two years, the World Design Organization offers a distinction to one city to act as the global ambassador for design innovations. This year’s bid has broken the mold with both San Diego and Tijuana jointly receiving the distinction of 2024’s World Design Capital. The WDC promises a showcase of international designs and designers throughout the year, with six major events to punctuate the calendar.

The man in charge of producing this year-long celebration of our region’s potential is Carlos de la Mora, the CEO of WDC 2024, the enthusiastic and stylish maestro of this worldwide representation. It’s his task to conduct an orchestra of designers to find solutions to our regions dissonate design issues—whether that be in the field of arts, transportation, or housing.

For those hankering to know what kinds of new edifices will grace our city, they may have to wait. “The purpose of World Design Capital is not to build projects. It’s to showcase what is happening already in the region, and it’s to connect these players yours in the region so that we can do more together,” says De la Mora.

It’s about blueprints, but in a future tense. As De la Mora puts it, “It’s about identifying our habits and our behaviors to this present moment of opportunity, so that we create a new identity for the region.”

World Design Organization

World Design Organization

Courtesy of the World Design Organization

San Diego is the first city in the US to receive this honor while Tijuana is the second in Mexico, after Mexico City’s 2018 tenure.

Past cities who have received the WDC distinction have displayed several forward-thinking programs, both physical and social. Valencia was the most recent design capital, reigning in 2022. They offered up social and art-based programs like “Lo Por Venir”, an art therapy series that brings together those on the social fringe a chance for interaction, and “Greetings From…” a harkening back to vintage vacation postcards promoting the national parks. While more esoteric projects combine disciplines, like “Erotica techno in Valencian architecture”, which explores the links between techno music and the city’s buildings.

De la Mora acknowledges the legacy of the program and what we can learn from former WDC’s past partnerships and projects. “We want to be part of the WDC legacy. The past WDC is connected to the current one and strengthens this network of cities that the WDO has already created. Because there’s a lot to learn from each other,” he says. At the WDC signing ceremony in May, Mayor Todd Gloria emphasized the potential of the union of San Diego and Tijuana. “This partnership between the design communities in San Diego and Tijuana is such an awesome demonstration of the connectivity and the interdependence of our two cities, especially when it comes to our position in the global economy,” said Mayor Gloria. “While we are separated by an international border, we are truly two cities that are tightly connected socially, economically.”

Economics are an important angle, as the bi-annual event is looking to raise $10 million in financial support. There are five major players in the World Design Capital programming: The Burnham Center for Community Advancement; UCSD; Design Forward Alliance; the city of Tijuana; and the city of San Diego. Each will be offering financial support for this alliance, mainly through grants and donations. According to De la Mora, 40 percent of funding has already been achieved. In mid-June, the San Diego city council voted unanimously to offer $3 million in funding specifically for WDC.

The programming also includes community involvement. As of June 1, designers and citizens alike have been able to “submit ideas for projects, exhibitions, events, activations and more to be included in the year-long program,” according to WDC. Official events that have been set to include the WDC Design Festival in April 2024, WDC Design Experience in September 2024, WDC Design Policy Conference and WDC Network of Cities Meeting in November 2024, and year-long exhibits at various venues across both cities. More will be added to this line-up once all submissions have been evaluated.

Seda Evis, a board member of the Design Forward Alliance and design professor at University of San Diego, as well as designer-in-residence at the UCSD Design Lab, is enthusiastic about the WDC distinction for San Diego and Tijuana. Though behemoths like the city government are partners, so are DFA, which is “a small yet mighty non-profit with a mission to connect, promote and advocate for a human-centered design community.” Evis hopes that the region will acknowledge the importance of design by installing a Chief Design Officer to the city’s roster after the WDC festivities are over to keep forward motion the WDC will offer.

Mayor Gloria is looking forward, as well, saying, “design solutions large and small can help us tackle some of our biggest challenges and improve the quality of life for our residents, and we’re excited to spend next year showing to the entire world how we can do this in the San Diego Tijuana region. And then, of course, export that all around the world.”

By Danielle Allaire

Danielle is a freelance culture journalist focusing on music, food, wine, hospitality, and arts, and founder-playwright of Yeah No Yeah Theatre company, based in San Diego. Her work has been featured in FLAUNT, Filter Magazine, and San Diego Magazine. Born and raised in Maui, she still loves a good Mai Tai.

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA