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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

Kenya Sustainable Cities - Designing Systems with Meaning and Purpose

We often complain of the problems and chaos that surround us. In ancient times, communities would set aside time for philosophical reflection.   

We are experiencing drought, what should we do as a community? We are experiencing repeated crime, what new laws should we develop? We have many more members, what new homes should we build and how should we feed our new members?

In modern times we have moved away from community reflection because we assume "the system" will solve everything without our direct participation. After we abdicate our participation to "the system" and "the system" gains power over us, we complain "the system is rigged against us." If asked to sit down and design a new system we complain that there is not enough time or money and we continue with what we know is not working to our benefit. Alternatively, we decide to fight over ideology instead of working towards agreement of purpose and we blame "those people" for a failed system and all our problems.

The truth is that we are the sole architects of our own misery and we are the only ones accountable for the transformation that is needed. There are no magical humans who will emerge to solve the problems we have created. If problems have existed for decades or for centuries it is because we have spent decades and centuries doing everything other than solving the problem. 

There was a time in history when we did not have language or the ability to translate conversations. We have solved that problem. There was a time in history when it was impossible to communicate with anyone who was not physically in front of you. We have solved that problem and we can even see each other in video across continents as we use our communication devices. We did not fight about solving these problems, we solved them. 

The spread of toxic pollutants is a problem we complain about yet avoid solving.

We say we want affordable products but what is the purpose of designing affordable products that damage our health or kill us slowly? What is the meaning of "affordable" if the cost is our good health? Can we afford to have asthma or cancer? How do these illnesses and toxins add meaning or value to our lives? Can we agree we should not use toxic chemicals?

Instead of blaming "the system" as individuals can we talk to each other and agree that there is no purpose for a system that causes health problems? Can we agree that the meaning of "affordable" must start from the basis of things that are healthy and safe?

If we agree on a system that does not cause health problems and affordability that starts witg safety, what type of products and systems do we begin to create? What specifications become part of our standard design? What greater things are we able to accomplish once we stop killing ourselves slowly with chemical toxins?

CSTI Researchers Prof. Shem Wandiga and Dr. Vincent Madadi (University of Nairobi) were part of team that issued the 2009 national plan for the implementation of the Libreville Declaration on Health and Environment in Africa  

Progress has been made but there is a lot more work to be done, starting with self-organized advocacy networks at the community level. Individual citizens can convene to discuss and reflect on the linkages between good environmental conditions and good human health.

We recognize the topic mightffeel emotionally overwhelming and very intimidating. To help you adjust, Cecilia Wandiga from our Board and Hannelie Venucia in South Africa collaborated to deliver a sense making a Podcast (video to follow) that can guide you through the anxiety of awareness and find ways to create joy while developing a mindset that solves the challenges of toxic pollution 

Your World or Mine Joycast - Creating Healthy Systems 

You can listen to the podcast alone or in joint reflection with your community.  

More human design sensemaking topics can be found here 

The options for solutions are as plentiful as the trees in a forest. By coming to agreement on the meaning and purpose of our human production systems, we can create common pathways that guide us through healthy global production systems. 

The choice of a better future begins with the actions and decisions we make today. Let us make our actions and decisions leave a good legacy for today and for the future... 

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