Bioregional Mapping Workshop

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Maps with Teeth: A Bioregional Mapping Workshop

Bioregional Mapping Workshop Manual 

Community mapping is a way for local citizens to reinhabit their home place. It is a participatory educational and planning process which maps the social, economic and ecological assets, history and development of a given place. People of all ages share their knowledge, values and experience with others as a basis for visioning and planning.

Maps can represent everything:

  • Visions of the Future
  • Visions of the Past
  • Stories & Narratives
  • Animals, Plants, Flora and Fauna of a Place
  • Rivers and Geographic Features
  • Cities and cultural spaces
  • Human inhabitation and types
  • Physical Spaces & Emotional Spaces 

Some of these values were physical or emotional, others reflected those of livelihood and recreation. Participants also collaborated in making a group map identifying both their personally significant locations and those they held in common. I utilized this mapmaking process because it offered three principle benefits. 

We are all Experts of the Spaces we Inhabit

Personal Maps into Community Maps

First, by creating personal maps, participants can investigate their own sense of place, or identity as members of the watershed community, and to discern those values that transformed feelings of belonging into an awareness of the nature of their place attachment. Second, participants name places in the watershed of special significance both individually and collaboratively, and identified the values and experiences that gave those places significance.  


Community mapping is a graphic learning, development, and planning tool that connects people to one another and their home places. We are all mapmakers and any community can make maps. Community maps are the collective representations of geography and landscape, and community mapping is the process to create such representations. Community mapping also tells the stories of what is happening right now and what may happen in the future. Every community has stories, recently or long buried in the lives and landscapes of our common ground. Community mapping connects geography to the history of our lives and the world around us. 

Why Maps? 

Maps are incredibly powerful tool for expressing and sharing how we perceive the world.  

Maps are graphic representations of our inner and outer worlds. Early humans developed mental maps as they developed language and spatial consciousness. In both oral and written traditions they named symbols, place names, individuals, and actions. To this day, maps maintain both cultural and practical applications. They are powerful navigational tools and can help guide our way in the world and in our daily lives. However, the map is only a picture in time and can never truly re-present the territory.

The question is: Who makes the maps? Community mapping, as “spatial discourse”, invites ordinary people to express their inner mental maps, their own visions, and values and to connect these to their everyday lives. The manual is a guide to community and bioregional mapping inspired by the work of many earlier bioregionalists before us. 

Bioregional mapping is participatory way for local citizens to root into their home place, and share the things and messages they find most important. It is a participatory educational and planning process which maps the social, economic and ecological assets, history and development of a given place. People of all ages share their knowledge, values and experience with others as a basis for visioning and planning.

What is a community? 

Communities can be places or spaces defined by where and with whom one identifies with and/or feels that one belongs. A community can be geographic (e.g. local, school, neighborhood, regional, national), socio-cultural (e.g. ethnic, women, men, gay, youth and children), sectoral (e.g. education, recreation, government, police, health), ecological (e.g. bioregional, plant, animal, biosphere) or special interest (e.g. church, punk, soccer, birdwatchers). 

Mapping our Visions of the Future is also intended to inspire and support the growth of a worldwide movement by citizens and communities building healthier economic, political and cultural ways of living, and engage with the vital interconnections between humans and the natural world. By growing our maps from the communities who know these issues and places the best, we create new ways to represent and share our stories, values and experiences of living in those spaces, rather than simply translating and reinforcing the arbitrary lines of power from maps built on top down, arbitrary or non representative systems.  

The core message of this manual is this: We are all experts of the spaces we inhabit. We can all be mapmakers and we can all use mapping to create positive energy and action for our communities, our bioregion and our world! 

Why Community Mapping? 

Community and Green Mapping affirm the integrity and diversity of local places and people as the primary foundation for healthy community development and sustainability. In an age of globalization, monoculture and virtual reality, we need such processes to reconnect ourselves to one another and our distinct and unique home places. 

Creates a Sense of Place 

Maps are tools that shape our perception of place. All humanity, particularly the majority who live in cities, is challenged to protect, enhance, and create healthy social and natural environments. Community mapping provides an inclusive and graphic framework for people to share their experiences, knowledge, and vision about their home place. 

Facilitates Dialogue

Community mapping is as much about process as it is about getting the map done. As a participatory and creative educational tool, mapping relies on the active engagement of participants to think together graphically and not just verbally. The process of mapmaking can bring together diverse perspectives and people to affirm different experiences and worldviews, to create dialogue and common understanding. 

Transforms “Reality” 

Community mapping is about transforming power based on the re-presentation of personal and collective realities. For people concerned with development issues, mapping can be a powerful tool for community learning, planning, and development. Citizens locate and affirm the historical, physical, social, cultural, and even spiritual attributes of their home place. Through the process of naming their realities through the creation of maps, communities are better equipped to proactively plan their own lives and communities. Together the inventory and the dialogue about “the place we call home” can lead to new possibilities for nurturing healthy people, communities, and ecosystems. 

Participatory Planning and Design 

Community mapping is an effective and creative tool for gathering information for community planning and design. Plans are based on maps; however, often cultural and ecological diversity and intergenerational experience are not represented on institutional maps. Planners rely on maps to represent reality so if community sites and values are not on the map, in the minds of planners, they may not exist. Economic, social, and environmental values and features can be simultaneously represented on a community map, facilitate dialogue and future visioning and planning independent of, or in partnership with institutions such as academic, government and private sectors. Community mapping processes acknowledge the visible and invisible layers that make up a place: from original place names and historical land use, to food systems, cultural history, economic development opportunities, and neighborhood visions. 

Theme and Project Ideas for Community Mapping 

Culture and Social Heritage Community history atlases (including pioneer and First Nations (indigenous) settlements) Heritage sites tours, websites and booklets Seniors’ memory books (based on interviews by local youth) Conservation and Greening Remediation sites Heritage plants and fruit trees Lost streams and lost species maps Greenways and green spaces Insects and amphibians Local/migratory birds and butterflies Underground water sources Toxic sites Food security projects Community and native plant garden sites Wildlife corridors and migration routes Community Planning Overall planning and visioning Local associations and organizations Traffic patterns and mass transit/bike lane studies Poverty and wealth (environmental justice) Land ownership, use, and resources Housing types (sprawl reduction) Gentrification Park assessment and use Emergency plan or hazards

Economic Development Capital flow Resource use Local business and historic trends and opportunities Vacant lots, opportunity sites, and markets Income and demographic trends Green businesses and services Energy generation Fair trade Personal and Community Health Personal assets and life journeys-visions Health trends and patterns Social inclusion (ages, culture, gender, class, abilities)

Community and Green Mapping Activities 

Community mapping and Green Mapping are creative learning processes. The following Mapping Tools section (pp. 4•1 – 4•22) offers workshop and design examples and outlines for you to use or adapt.


The Learning Space and Process 

Ingredients for community mapping workshops 

Community mapping projects often begin with or include a classroom-style workshop. This does not exclude community research, walkabouts, interviews, data collection, and other activities. However, building the group or the “team” is central for most community mapping projects. Here are a few guidelines for creating a positive learning environment for sharing, dialogue, and community action.  

Classroom Style Workshop Provide a comfortable space Ensure you have a bright room or space to work in. A set-up where you provide groupings of tables, each with five or six chairs is ideal. If you are outside, use what you can! Provide a welcoming atmosphere Participants need to be welcomed by the facilitators and hosts and have informal time to meet one another through friendly introductions, warm-up activities and refreshment breaks. Ensure the process is guided by skilled facilitators The main facilitator(s) need to feel comfortable both speaking to a large group and guiding the small group (3-6 people) mapping process. Designate small group leaders to facilitate group listening and/or to record what is said. Focus on participation, fun, and inclusion Everyone’s views matter and the more diversity in the group, the better. Mapping allows different forms of expression and dialogue. It literally creates space for diverse views to be expressed and for less-verbal people to be included. Forget about technical accuracy Community mapmaking is about story telling and creating a sense of home place and does not require skilled artists or technicians. Narrative and specific information about a place can be gathered through the process by a group recorder or by further investigative data collection. i.e. Thematic Speakers, Field Trips, Community Walkabouts, and Inventory Collection 

Workshop Examples 

Personal Journey Mapping

 Introduction – 15 minutes This exercise requires a careful introduction and is best done with a group that will be working together for some time. Arrange seating in a semicircle. Participants can introduce themselves, sharing something that is unique about them—e.g. where their name came from, favorite color, or favorite food. The facilitator describes a personal journey map, noting that each person’s map is full of rich stories, with significant turning points, joys and sadness, and particular places and people that have affected them (facilitators can give examples from their own lives). Guiding questions are: What are the significant events, people, and places in your life? What are the major turning points? What have been the key insights or learnings? The facilitator encourages participants to draw or map their journeys in any way they wish, to take time to think deeply about their lives, and to work in silence. Using the physical landscape (i.e. mountains, valleys, rivers, deserts, cold and warm places, and darkness and light) is one way to describe a journey. Tell the group that they will be asked to share their maps, in as much detail they wish, once they return. Individual Mapping – 30-45 minutes People take their mapping materials to a quiet place to make their map. Once they are finished their map they return to the group. Group Presentations – 10-20 minutes per person The entire group is called back together to present the personal maps. This is on a voluntary basis. People hold up their map or put it on the wall while describing their journey, the key events, and insights. Encourage them to aim for 10 minutes to present their map, but do not rush anyone along too much. Make sure each group has time to present. Closing – 10 minutes Each person shares one thing they have learned about themselves and others. Everyone is thanked. Group size: 1-10 Time: 1.5 hours Objective: to connect people to place, to build group trust, to share worldviews and stories Materials: large sheets of paper, colored pencils, crayons, or markers Notes: This exercise takes time, so allow yourself flexibility. Taking a stretch/ refreshment break before and/or mid-way through the presentations helps to keep energy up if the time goes beyond 2 hours. Information shared by people can often be very personal and sensitive. The facilitator can encourage the group to listen (with their ears, eyes, and heart) and to hold in confidence information shared. Personal Assets Map What makes you unique? What is your special gift to the world? Assets are defined in this exercise as personal idiosyncrasies, gifts, and capacities. Each person is asked to draw themselves and either draw in or list five (or more) assets that they have. These can be drawn onto a piece of paper as a face or abstract drawing or put up on the wall and grouped under different categories to create a collective inventory. Others in the group can add in assets that they see in each other. (See McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out or Youth Asset Mapping Manual for more ideas).

The Planning Game

 Objective This activity explores the values that influence personal and community decision making. It can be used with all ages and provides an excellent basis for group building and for representing the individual and common values behind a community mapping and planning process. It also compliments “quality of life” and “sustainability indicators” planning exercises. What is a Healthy, Livable Community to Me? to Others? Begin by introducing yourself and have the group members introduce themselves and the places they call home. As an option people can also share an adjective that describes what a healthy community should look or feel like (e.g. “Hi, my name is Sarah, I live in Sunshine neighborhood and I think a healthy community should be…”). Have a recorder write down the names and the adjectives as they speak, for all to see. Then hand out five pieces of colored paper strips or post-it-notes and a marker to each person. Ask people to visualize a healthy community, a healthy place*. Get participants to briefly share their ideas with the person next to them. Ask participants to think of themselves as community planners or designers and to write on each piece of paper one essential feature of a healthy community. Allow them 5-10 minutes – they can do this alone but can also work or discuss with others. While they are doing this, put up your planning diagram. Briefly explain the various components of the matrix and get people to tape up their 5 features. If your schedule permits, this is best done one at a time with each person explaining his or her features and why they chose them. If you wish, you can now lead into a discussion on planning priorities and dilemmas, or work directly into a mapping exercise of a particular place and theme.

Group Size: 5-30 (very flexible) Time: 1 hour (with discussions and variations 2 hrs) Materials: colored markers, colored strips of paper 1 x 2 “ (five per person), a planning diagram A planning diagram is a large 3’ x 5’ piece of paper labeled: “Essential Features of a Healthy Community” with three intersecting circles labeled: “Environment (Natural and Built)”, “Economic”, and “Social-Cultural”, with the central intersecting circle labeled “Health.” You will put this up on the wall. Notes: This exercise can be adapted to many groups and settings and can be followed by in-depth discussions of balancing values and priorities. For example, once all the features are placed on the planning matrix the group can decide which are the most important and why.

Local Place Map 

Create the Maps – 20 minutes Decide on what you consider to be your local region and draw a rough outline of it. It can be your block, your neighborhood, the whole city, or a watershed etc. Mark your favorite places— walks, important centers, leisure spots, etc. Be as concrete or as abstract as you wish. Do not worry about scale or accuracy. Make your own icons (e.g. favorite places, green spaces, and opportunity sites) or use those from the Green Map System. Mark your least favorite places, those you consider uninviting, dangerous etc. Mark opportunity sites or places you would like to see change. Discussion – 15 minutes What do you consider local? Why did you exclude other areas? Do you remember a time when the map of your region would have been very different? What did you leave off your map? Why did you use certain symbols on your map? Variation – Bioregional Map • Spend a few minutes selecting the place you would like to map. It should be a small area that you know fairly well, like your home, workplace, or a favorite park or beach. • Draw outlines of your space. It does not have to be defined by streets. It could be bordered by bodies of water, a property boundary, a hill, trees, or another building. • Mark an “X” to show where you are. • Draw the nearest body of water if there is one. This could be a creek, ditch, pond, river, lake, or ocean. • Are there any animals (birds, mice, cats, spiders, snakes…) living there? • Draw or make symbols of the plants and trees in and around your space. • Are there any outstanding features which make your place unique? • With symbols or words, show your favorite and least favorite spots. • With words, symbols, or images describe what certain places on your map mean to you.


Group Size: 5-25 Time: 30 minutes – one hour Materials: large sheets of paper and colored pencils, crayons or markers photocopies of Green Map icons (optional) Notes: People often need some concrete suggestions and encouragement to get started, but once they begin, it will be hard to get them to stop!

Community Mapping 

Introduction Why Community Mapping? Give a simple overview of community mapping focusing on the connections between Assets, Values and Visions. Goals of Exercise: 8 have fun and be creative 8 meet your neighbors and remember their names 8 identify community assets and opportunity sites 8 vision together and discuss the “what if?” possibilities Rules: 8 Listen as much as you talk! Map Each Site 8 Every dot is numbered and the site information to match it – put on each post-it note – MUST have the corresponding number on it too! 8 Identify each Site with a colored dot 8 Write the same number on a post-it note 8 Describe the site on the post-it note Group Exercise A Mapping Ourselves: Who are We and What Do We Love Best about our Community? 8 About You! – Introduce yourself to the group and mark with a dot where you live and with a post-it note your name (and address/email – if you like) 8 Your Favorite Place – Locate and describe a favorite place to one another or take a bigger piece of paper and draw your favorite place and put that along the sides of the map. B Mapping our Common Treasures: What and Where are Our Community Treasures? 8 Locate the Assets (using the dots and post-it notes) *Blue and Green Assets (Sites, Routes, and Spaces) 8 Arts and Culture Assets, Social Assets (and services), Commercial, Economic Development Assets C Mapping Our Visions – from Assets to Opportunities – What and Where are Our Visions for Change? How Can We Improve Our Community? 8 Identify opportunity sites from the above categories and describe them on the green post-it notes. (This could be a future development idea, a vacant lot, a service that does not exist and should, a cleanup area, a health clinic, a wharf, a community garden, a bakery, a new greenway or bike path, a swimming pool…!) 

This is a generic workshop format used for local or neighborhood mapping events for 5-30 people. It may take 2 hours: one hour for groups of 4-6 people to answer the questions and another hour for presentation and discussion. Materials: large table-size planning map, color dots to place on sites, post-it notes for site descriptions, paper to draw out your favorite places, coloured markers, eager neighbors

Map Components 

If you would like, add one or several of these simple map components to make it easier for other people to read the map. 

  • Title Make a name for your map that includes the place and a tagline that summarizes what is represented on it. 
  • Direction If you have determined in which direction the sun rises and in which it sets, you already know the orientation of the cardinal directions: south, north, east and west. Mark the direction of sunrise as east and sunset as west. With east on the left and west on the right you will have south facing up between them (north does not necessarily have to be on top of the page!). Create a small compass rose or directional arrow to show your maps orientation. It could even artfully reflect your community. 
  • Legend If you have been using symbols to draw the various features on your map, insert a small box (legend) on your map in which you interpret them for your reader. 
  • Scale The basic point of the scale is to let the reader know the size of the object that is being represented on the map. Find something on your map for which you can guess the size, such as a table (1.5m long), or a house (15m wide). Note that an adult of average height makes about two casually paced steps to a meter. Make a line representing that distance at the bottom of your page and note its real length underneath it. Now you have a scale. 
  • Production Information Put your name(s) and the date on the map and any other sources used—Voila! 

Questions to Consider:

  • Who is going to use this Map? Are they mostly longtime community residents, newcomers, or tourists? Are they students, senior citizens, or others? What map format will reach and motivate your audience – printed copies or a web-based map? One large poster map for the community center or a mural? Or a combination?
  • What about the Map’s “look and feel”?  Should it have a colorful and fanciful design or simply be factual? Does it need pictures or other graphics besides the map? You might want to compare a selection of existing maps and decide together what would be most effective for your intended users (as well as your budget for publication). Consider hand-drawn vs. computerized design, and using collage, sketches, photos, and inset maps.
  • How will it fold? What kinds of ecological and cultural sites are important for the intended users to know about? Start by making a list of sites, then review to see if you are focusing attention on the full range of sites and resources you want to include.
  • Should the map be comprehensive (with everything) or include several Icons or just a few?
  • What are the boundaries of the map? Official town boundaries, your bioregion, your neighborhood, a meandering bike tour route, thematic maps – what will tell your story best and fit well on the sheet, too? What navigation cues are needed?
  • What should stand out on your map? What is the key information, the overall concept, and the message the map is to convey? Who will write text and/or create graphic and photographic images? Who will take care of outreach, fundraising, design, production, and distribution/marketing?
  • Where will the base map come from? From an existing map, or a GIS application, or will you draw your own? Successful Green Maps have used all of these formats.
  • How do you look for information? Consider direct observation, research in books or online, surveys of residents, involving an expert in the project, and other inquiries. Record the data about each on a field report, file card, or database. How do you make all the elements of the map work well together? Balance images, outlines, background, and dimensions to create an inviting map. Use the five elements of design: color, pattern, line, texture, and shape. Share sketch maps to select the best direction for the final project. Select environmentally-sound mapmaking materials, including recycled paper, nontoxic markers and glues.
  • How well does the map communicate to the reader? Plan time for writing narratives and editing site descriptions, making a clear layout, legibility (tiny print is harder for youth and seniors to read), languages (should the legend include multiple languages?). Do not forget to proofread and double-check all details.
  • How can you make the map project extend into the future? Make sure your Green Map is placed where people can see it, and ask for feedback. Plan for future updates and corrections. What is next? Should new themes or areas be charted? Will you join several workshop or successive semester maps into one big image?

Mapping our Common Ground by Maeve Lydon

Community mapping is both the recovery and discovery of the connections and common ground that all communities share. This emerging cartographic practice is a vital part of a worldwide movement for participatory learning, community empowerment and sustainable planning. Maps visually represent worldviews and knowledge and therefore have unique spatial power. Community mapping assumes that ordinary people and communities can make maps to express the stories about their lives and home places. Community mapping, as a learning and planning process, facilitates such story telling and community maps represent the stories. 

This paper begins with an exploration of the power of maps and the theoretical challenge posed by indigenous and community mapping to the discipline of Western cartography. Indigenous maps illustrate the power of maps for cultural, historical and geographic expression and connectedness. They also inspire contemporary community mapping. Profiles of community mapping initiatives in Canada and a case study of Common Ground Victoria are presented with community mapping practitioner observations on mapping methodology and technology. The paper ends with the position that, as the need for community and ecological recovery and connectedness grows, so will the relevance of the unique and powerful spatial learning and planning tool – community mapping.

Maps, like theories, have power in virtue of introducing modes of manipulation and control that are not possible without them. They become evidence of reality in themselves and can only be challenged through the production of other maps and theories. David Turnbull, Maps are Territories, 1989, p. 54

For me it is really important that learning not be always a study of what is out there, in other places, all the time. When my class were doing the geography of making their own maps, it was their geography, their place. Today I just came from my class and one of my kids said, “We are history”. Mapping has been a wonderful way for them to develop that feeling of being a participant. Susan Underwood, Schoolteacher, 2002

We are all mapmakers. Any community can make maps. Community[2] mapping rests on such a claim and assumption. Maps are inspiring. Maps provide a unique language for humans to communicate with one another. Maps can record great losses and discoveries, the changes of physical and political landscapes, great beauty and destruction. Maps reflect our relationship to ourselves, to one another and to the environment. They reflect the geography of our lives and communities.

Whether conscious or not, our cognitive or mental maps guide the paths and routes that make up our lives. Each of us has a different mental map, a different sense of place, and a distinct way of seeing and being in the world. In effect, we have our own stories and geographies, different physical, mental and social landscapes that we experience and inhabit everyday. How we spatially and visually represent such stories and geographies is in effect, cartography. When we do this with other people we are “community mapping.” 

Community maps are thus the collective representations of geography and landscape, and community mapping is the process to create such representations. Community mapping “lets people think together graphically, instead of verbally” (Wood, 1994, p.24). It tells the stories of what is happening in our communities; and every community has stories, recently or longburied in the lives and landscapes of our common ground.

There are many other stories about community mapping projects that have benefited the community or ecosystem health. Doug Aberley, and a pioneer of bioregional and community mapping ( and University of British Columbia adjunct professor), has worked throughout Canada and the world using mapping as a tool for community development and planning. Whether it is working in rural Asia, or in Canada’s North with indigenous groups mapping their ancestral lands, or with community activists in Canada’s inner cities, he believes community maps are distinct tools and vehicles for change: The maps become a source of collective knowledge about place –a level of knowledge that no single individual, corporation, or government agency is ever likely to match. This leads to empowerment, and to decisions about growth and development that better helps us to achieve the goals that most of us share: social justice and ecological sustainability. Aberley, Northwest Arizona University, 2002.

As a movement, community mapping is making a significant impact in community learning, development and planning in Canada and worldwide. There are Tom and Janet stories throughout the world being told and made in classrooms, on city streets, in village squares and community centres, and in farmer’s fields and wilderness spaces. Ordinary people, literate and non-literate, have become mapmakers.

The Origin and Power of Maps

 Community mapping leads naturally to a discussion and debate about the origin, nature and function of maps themselves. Questions arise such as, what is a map anyway? Why do maps have power? And, why do we need maps?


Harley and Woodward define maps in The History of Cartography as “graphic representations that facilitate a spatial understanding of things, concepts, conditions, processes or events in the human world” (in Turnbull, 1989, p. xvi). Such representations, according to Turnbull (1989), could be iconic (pictorial or visual portrayals) and/or symbolic (conventional signs and symbols like letters and numbers). However, all maps represent and reflect how an individual or society names and projects themselves onto nature, literally and symbolically. Mapmaking has thus both socio-cultural (myth-making) and technical (utilitarian and economic) functions and traditions. The latter is more pronounced in the West where cartography has been professionalized as a discipline.

In the Origins of Cartography (1987), Malcolm Lewis suggested that the development of language and spatial consciousness in early humans (hominids) enabled the development of the first maps, cognitive (mental) maps. This involved the naming of symbols, place names, individuals, actions and the sequencing of these symbols. Some humans expanded beyond oral language and wrote down these icons and symbols. They became written maps. However, whether oral or written, the belief systems or myths of those making the maps are reflected on the map itself. Thomas Kuhn, in his work on the philosophy of science, refers to this as the “paradigm,” the pattern of knowledge that determines which “entities” nature is said to contain and how they behave. The paradigm creates theories, a “map” whose details are elucidated by scientific research: 

And since nature is too complex and varied to be explored at random, the map is as essential as observation and experiment to science’s continuing development…paradigms provide scientists not only with a map but also with some of the directions essential for map-making. In learning a paradigm, the scientist acquires theory, methods and standards together, usually in an inextricable mixture. Kuhn, 1970, p. 109

 Given this paradigmatic lens, map-making as a scientific or technical tradition can be seen as self-referencing, a knowledge system dependent always on the cultural paradigm and worldview of the mapmaker. Bender (1996), in Mapping Alternate Worlds, believes all maps –Western or otherwise– are actually “indexical.” “They’re indexed on people’s sense of their own history, their own social relationships.” Compared to indigenous maps, she says, “the Western map is equally indexical, but pretends not to be.” Ronald Wright extends Kuhn and Benders’ explanation of mapping to the world of myth making. A passionate writer on the history of colonial and indigenous relations in the Americas, Wright believes that in order to recover and reclaim power effectively, indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike need to oppose and transform the discovery myth of the conqueror. He believes that: 

Myth is an arrangement of the past, whether real or imagined, in patterns that resonate with a culture’s deepest values and aspirations…Myths are so fraught with meaning that we live and die by them. They are the maps through which cultures navigate through time…while Western myths are triumphalist, those of the losers have to explain and overcome catastrophe. If the vanquished culture is to survive at all, its myths must provide a rugged terrain in which to resist the invader and do battle with his myths. Wright, 1991, p. 5.

 The myth of discovery has guided the colonial cartographic tradition. Since the advent of perspective geometry in the 15th century, followed by the rise of colonialism and the Scientific Revolution, maps became possessions and instruments of military, cultural and economic power, and increasingly in the hands of those with colonial and commercial interests. Cartography soon became an indispensable tool of state and colonial power, while portraying the world with a European bias. Spaces and cultures were “indexed” and the geography and cultures of other spaces and places were subjugated, vanquished or colonized in the process. Until this century, the Mercator’s Projection, named after the Flemish cartographer, was the standard world map with the inaccurately larger West placed on top. In country after country, maps were used as tools to accompany a hegemonic worldview and approach to territory. 

Colonial maps and mapping were thus graphic representations of the myth of discovery and became key symbols and tools of power. However, vanquished people and places, mostly indigenous peoples worldwide, have resisted control and are recovering their land and culture and are providing a foundation and inspiration to community mapmakers worldwide. The myth of discovery is challenged by a vision for cultural survival and sustainability

Indigenous Community Mapping

Traditional knowledge, both mythical and utilitarian, is represented in both cognitive and written indigenous maps. Such maps helped indigenous groups to sustain their ways of life, at least initially, while they also helped to guide the routes of colonial visitors and conquerors to their territories. Tribal maps worldwide were, and some continue to be, made of shells, bark, wood, sand and stones; whatever local materials were available. The Inuit in Northern Canada made floatable wood maps of their islands that fit perfectly into their kayaks; the Marshall Islanders also made floatable navigation maps with sticks to represent the currents, and shells to represent their islands. Australian aborigines made maps representing their territory, their songlines. The songlines were believed to have been made by ancestral beings who traversed the land and water and made the topography wherein “…landscape, knowledge, story, song, graphic representation and social relations all mutually interact, forming one cohesive knowledge network” (Turnbull, 1989, p.28).

Today, First Nations in Canada and aboriginal peoples worldwide combine traditional methodologies with modern technologies to create cultural, land-use and legal maps of their territories. In Australia, aboriginal groups overlay modern topographical maps onto their songline maps; and in Indonesia, indigenous groups are working with Canadian mapmakers from the University of Victoria to create what they together call community information systems (CIS) to document traditional land use and occupation and elder’s knowledge. However, in many and perhaps most cases, indigenous groups such as the Gitxsan First Nation in British Columbia did not have a written mapmaking tradition. “Our culture and the elders did not use or need maps as part of their traditions. They knew who they were and they knew whose land they were on and whose land they could cross over,” said Gitxsan Eagle Clan Chief Calvin Hyzims (Lydon, 2000). Hyzims said that mapmaking has been a key foundation for the recovery of the cultural and economic power they lost over one hundred years of colonization: “The government won’t recognize anyone without a map. It has been essential for the reclamation of our territory” (Lydon, 2000, p.27). The Gitxsan have been making GIS and print maps to document the different assets of their territories, based on an ongoing process of re-surveying and “ground-truthing” their territories. They overlaid elders’ stories of traditional land-use knowledge with government data and filled in their own observations. To make the maps we walked the trails blazed by our elders years ago. We found walking sticks, shelters and food storage sites from the early 1900s. Elders had been living in these areas in 30 to 40 degrees below zero. We are re-blazing the trails and this information about our land has been used in Court as evidence of our title. Hyzims in Lydon, 2000. p.27 Across Canada, mapping is becoming a central tool for First Nations economic and cultural recovery and management. In some cases the process is participatory and involves many community members, while in other cases it is high-tech and run by experts or outsiders.

Historical and contemporary indigenous maps and mapping inspires non-indigenous community mappers to examine their own values and relationship to their local places. Sometimes partnerships have been formed between First Nations and non-indigenous community mappers. The Gitxsan mappers have shared their mapping stories and work with many groups in Canada, the United States, and with Indonesian community and indigenous groups. They also inspired and acted as mentors for the Victoria, B.C. urban-based mapping project Common Ground. The Gitxsan gave workshops in Victoria and on their traditional territory, sharing practices, principles and their overall vision of community mapping. The Gitxsan emphasized to the city dwellers key elements of community mapping: the recovery of local history and stories from young and old, an inventory of local economic, social and environmental assets and the importance of getting out and walking one’s home territory.

Community Mapping in Practice 

In the Local Agenda 21 Planning Guide developed out of the United Nations Rio Conference on the Environment in 1992 (written by the International Centre for Local Environmental Initiatives ), community-based mapping is identified as a best practice for locally-based sustainability planning. Agenda 21 identified the global need for wholistic, engaging and locally-based development processes that can assist in development of local capacity and power. Mapping as a pedagogical and planning tool has the potential to conceptualize, make and use images of place. The various components of sustainability –what constitutes a healthy community– is not defined, divided, and dissected by outside planners and developers. As British community mapping advocate Sue Clifford says: “so much surveying, measuring, fact gathering, analysis and policy-making leaves out the very things which make a place significant to those who know it well” (1996, p. 4). Community maps are asset-building tools for community development as they invite citizens to think first about what their community already has, rather than what it needs. John McKnight, a leading architect of asset-mapping and asset-based community development believes, “No amount of technology can substitute for knowledge about a real person in an actual place. (2001). Community mapping focuses on what people value and what they vision for the future. This kind of mapping is the antithesis of expert-led discourse and development as everyone’s views matters and can only enhance the map.

Bioregional Mapping Workshop: 

  • What? 
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why? 
  • What is the goal? 
  • Structure of the Workshop? 


  • Pre-reading
  • What is most important to you? Prepare a list of 5 organizations, stories, facts, locations, geographical features. 
  • Quiz – Where does your water come from? What are the indigenous people who lived there? 

Preparation: Pre-Reading Pack, Preparation Homework – what is important to you, what would you like to map? Take a Watershed Quiz. 

Introduction to Bioregional Mapping & The Workshop Schedule 

Start with Presention: Introduction to Bioregional Mapping & Why it’s Important. What would you like to map? 

Show: Maps with Teeth

Teamwork: Talk about what we thought was interesting, think about what we would like to create a map.

Evaluation: Feedback anonymously 

Different participatory techniques include: 

  • Presentation: To create a trusting and friendly environment. 
  • Liveliness: To promote different activities resulting in positive change. 
  • Team work: To encourage the community to work around a common issue. 
  • Evaluation: At the end, the participants provide their feedback anonymously about the activities. 
  • The video “To Map A Dream” is shown and discussed in the workshops


How well do you know where you are from?

Each year, thousands of people are flooding into the places where we live. Because of the displacement of our economic and social systems, these people often have little or no connection to the distinct history, cultures or ecologies of those places. Even if you were born in an area, our current society makes it very difficult to live in an authentic, bioregional way. 

Regardless of where you are from or what you believe, the demands and stress that we are placing on our ecosystems and watersheds are destroying our hope for a better future for each of us. 

The goal of this booklet is simple, to help people better connect with where they live, plug in a deeper and more authentic way, and begin to build alternatives for a more livable and healthy planet. 

How many of the questions can you answer, without referring to the internet or field guides first?



Bioregionalism is a call to become knowledgeable residents and guardians of the places where we live. Although we are seldom aware of it, we live in naturally unique physical, ecological, historical and cultural areas whose boundaries are more often ridgetops than county lines and state borders.

This is a call to get to know our local land and water; our local weather and sky; our local plants and animals; our local neighbors and communities. It is a call to join our hearts, hands and minds with what has been, what is, and what could be, in this place.

Getting to know the place where we live is important for both our well-being and for the well-being of our home. Becoming aware of our “sense of place” helps us to see it as a unique part of the living earth, deserving of respect, gratitude, and careful treatment. We humans can then begin to shift how we live more towards balance and harmony with the wider life community. Security begins by acting responsibly at home.

Welcome home!

This quiz provides a lot of starting points for getting to know your own living home region.

It can be sobering to realize how little we know right now.  The intention of the quiz is not to make us feel bad about how disconnected we are, but instead to gain awareness of the multi-layered things yet to discover about the richness of our home place.

Please treat it as an opportunity. Maybe you want to only choose a few questions, the ones that call to you the most. Feel free to find out the answers in any way you can: Ask your neighbors, go to the library, read the newspaper with this sort of focus, go outside, wander around, and pay attention every day. “Waste time” doing nothing but noticing our world.

There’s no way to cheat. Spend some time investigating; ask for some help. And feel free to make up some more questions of your own.


  1. Where does the water in your house come from? Trace the water you drink from rainfall to tap. Where did the cloud gather its moisture?
  2. Where does the water go that drains from your sink? What about the water (& other stuff) leaving your toilet? How is it filtered?
  3. How many watersheds exist in your county or city? Can you name them? 
  4. Choose a favorite meal and trace the ingredients back through the store…the processing plant…all the way to the soil. How many people, states, or even countries helped produce this meal? What went into the packaging and transportation of its ingredients? How many of the ingredients could you (did you?) get locally or even grow yourself?
  5. What kind of energy do you primarily use? Where does it come from? Trace the path of energy that powers your home from its sources to you.
  6. When your garbage is thrown away, where does it go? Does it go to a landfill, or is it sent somewhere else? How about your recycling?
  7. What are the primary sources of pollution in your area?
  8. What are the major natural sounds you are aware of in a particular season?
  9. What agencies are responsible for planning future transportation and land use in this area?
  10. List three critical environmental issues in your area. What can you do to help?
  11. Draw a map of your territory, the areas you travel regularly – without using human markers like buildings or street names.
  12. If you look out your window, how many different types of trees, birds or bushes can you see? How many can you name?


  1. What primary geological events or processes that shaped the land where you live? (Extra Points: What is the evidence?)
  2. When was the last time there was a major geologic event that happened near you? How did it change the area, and how did recovery happen?
  3. What soil series are you standing on?
  4. What types of food are grown near you? What is your favorite food that grows locally? What time of year is the best time to plant it, and when is the best time to harvest it?
  5. How has the land in your area been used or transformed by humans, over the last two centuries?
  6. Who lived here prior to European settlement, and what were their primary subsistence techniques?
  7. What was the vegetation type in this area prior to settler colonization?
  8. Where is there wilderness in your bioregion?


  1. What is the elevation above sea level where you live?
  2. What is the average annual rainfall for your area? What was the total rainfall in your area last year?


  1. What Spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?
  2. Name seven common trees in your area. Which ones are native? For the others, how did they get here? Why were they brought?
  3. What types of forests are near you? What trees grow the fastest, what does an intermediary forest look like, and how about a mature old growth forest?
  4. Which indigenous people inhabit(ed) your region before you? Are they still here? What languages did they speak? Where is, or was the nearest First Nation settlement closest to you? What was its name?
  5. 21b. What are/were the First Nations names for the place you live, or elements of this place (such as nearby mountains and rivers – are there any stories associated with the names)?
  6. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?
  7. Name five edible wild plants in your region and their season(s) of availability.
  8. Name three medicinal wild plants in your region, and what they can be used for. BONUS: which parts are the most effective (stems, roots, fruits…)?
  9. Name seven mammals common to your area. Which are native and which are new here? From where did they come? Which animals are extinct from your area?
  10. Name ten birds common to your area. (Extra Points: Which are year-round residents? Which are migratory?) (For the EXPERT: Where do the latter winter over?)
  11. Name five grasses in your area. Are any of them native?
  12. Name four wild mushrooms that grow in your area, two edible (only if you are an expert) and two poisonous.
  13. Describe the defense techniques used by three different animals, plants or marine line living in your area. (Examples: camouflage, poison, thick skin, thorns…)
  14. What are the major plant associations in your region?
  15. What plant or animals are the “barometer” of environmental health for your bioregion? How is it doing? 


  1. Sitting in your living room, point North.
  2. How recently was the Moon full? What phase is she in now?
  3. On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?
  4. From what direction do winter storms or trade winds come in your region?
  5. How long is the growing season where you live?
  6. How has the typical weather changed in your area since you were born? (Ask an older person to remember weird weather.)
  7. Name one constellation or star that comes out only in winter, and one that comes out in summer.


  1. When was the last time a fire burned in your area?
  2. What caused it?
  3. How did the land change after that? What grew back first, second, third? What bugs, birds, and animals followed?
  4. How is fire dealt with where you live? (Controlled burns, completely prevented, seasonal controls – what sort?)


These questions began with “Where You At – A Bioregional Quiz” by Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman and Victoria Stockley, which was first published in the Winter 1981 issue of Coevolution Quarterly and subsequently reprinted in Home! A Bioregional Reader (New Society Publishers, ISBN 0-86571-188-7, 1990).

I (Tina Fields) made extensive further additions and when it grew unwieldy, created the breakdown by category to organize the expanding inquiry.

In addition, a few of the questions were gleaned years ago from the work of Fox Tales, Chas Clifton, & the folks at the Co-Intelligence Institute. 

The late Peter Berg started the Planet Drum Foundation. I still miss his wisdom, humor, and wide curiosity about what’s possible to create in the world.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”1614″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row]