Bounded Space: A Timeless Concept for Conservation

Atop Philadelphia's City Hall looking east over the Delaware River - a broad flat coastal plain
Atop Philadelphia’s City Hall looking east over the Delaware River – a broad flat coastal plain

Living in a city such as Philadelphia, our city limits (boundaries) are clearly defined. We can’t sprawl all over the place. We have to stick within the land limits that we have. So, buildings are reused, renovated or torn down and a new building put in the same place or not. In some places buildings are torn down and open space and parks are created instead.

If we want a forest in Philadelphia, we have to take care of the Wissahickon. It we want rivers we can swim in, with fish that are safe to eat, we have to keep the Delaware, Schuylkill and Wissahickon rivers clean. If we want healthy ecosystems with native butterflies we have to plant native plants.  The list goes on.

The City in the Forest

We know we have to take care of what we have, because our space is limited.

What is Bounded Space?

This brings me to the concept of “bounded space”. Bounded Space is a concept that infuses the way indigenous peoples think of their homelands and of themselves.

People in each tribal nation could tell you the boundaries of their homeland. ” From this river in the east to that river in the west, from this ridge in the north to that plateau in the south”. Bounded space. Not the world is my oyster. Not limitless land to spoil.  Indigenous land boundaries were set by the spirit guides of each tribal nation.

The Cherokees moved their villages about every thirteen years or so. They moved because the land needed time to rejuvenate after farming and other activities. Many tribes moved to follow the cycle of the seasons for gathering, farming, hunting, and fishing. But, they moved around in their homeland boundaries.

If this forest or managed woodland, feeds your family and community, you take care of it. Your tribe wasn’t getting more. And trying to take someone else’s meant war and loss of life. And when indigenous north americans did go to war it was often over hunting or fishing rights. The Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois League, solved this by abolishing individual tribal rights to certain areas and made all hunting and fishing in their land open to humans within the League.

So, when the Europeans arrived they saw incredible abundance. The newcomers saw rivers choked full of fish, managed orchards surrounding villages, woodlands managed for food for deer and other meat animals. But, the newcomers didn’t stop to question or think why this was so. They thought the peoples they meet were just living in land, in a “primitive” state and didn’t use many natural resources.  (Conservation: A Haudenosaunee View)

Misconceptions and Land Destruction

The newcomers couldn’t have been more wrong.  Abundant environmental living is a conscious choice and a sacrifice.

After being here on Turtle Island (some indigenous people call North America, Turtle Island), the newcomers realize managing a land and keeping it health isn’t so easy. And it takes sacrifice. If you want a healthy ecosystem, you preserve habitat, even if it means you have to give something up.

Contrast that to the current concept of going to the “moon” or creating an “intergalactic empire”. What incentive is there to take care of a planet when you think there is more out there to use? Space: No Longer an Option?

Earth is All We Have

What if Earth is truly our bounded space? Our only space. What if there isn’t “another Earth” primed and ready to replace this one?

What if after many attempts to colonize space, we fail. Even after we know how destructive a force colonization is, we still plan on doing it yet again, but with spacesuits on.

Philadelphia is its’ own county. No other township is in Philadelphia County.  I can picture a map of Philadelphia clearly in my head.

Map of Philadelphia in my head
Map of Philadelphia in my head

What if each community thought in terms of a bounded environment that needed to support the lives of the people within it? What if each community vowed to be self-sufficient in food and water? What if we simply lived in our bounded spaces?


More on Sustainable Living

They need us. Environmentalists save the world.

Sustainability and Cottage Garden Life

Paris Lessons: How to Make a Liveable City

The Social Conquest of the Earth


  1. Outstanding post, Donna.

    I really like reading your ideas about land use ethics and ownership of place. It would really be something if everyone took responsibility for their whole communities, wouldn’t it?

    Great mental map of Philly, too. I’d love to see something like this in more travel guides…

    • Thank you, Sonja.

      Yes, if we all (or nearly all) people took responsibility for our community, we could create beautiful and abundant places to live.

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