Systems Science

Defining Boundaries of an Urban Environment

Minneapolis City LimitIn previous articles, I discussed the cultural boundaries of South Minneapolis. I also discussed the geographical boundaries of South Minneapolis. And I revisited both the cultural and geographical boundaries, and compared them to the political boundaries of South Minneapolis.

However, South Minneapolis is just one part of the city. The boundary problem, that’s what we call it in systems science and systems thinking, is a rather ambiguous problem. This is because of where a boundary starts and where a boundary ends. Let me put this another way.

You own a piece of property, correct? If you don’t, pretend you do for this discussion. And let’s say you don’t have a fence line. Both your front and back yards are wide open. In addtion, let’s say your neighbors’ yards on both sides do not have fence lines either. And let’s say that neither you nor your neighbors have glanced at your respective property outlines – the document that states where exactly your property lines start and end.

Now all three of you are out in your respective backyards. The question is now, where does your property end and where does your neighbor’s property begin? You have some intuition based off of where you mow your lawn; that is, how far you go into your neighbor’s yard. But your neighbor also mows his lawn and it overlaps with yours. Again, where does your yard end and your neighbor’s yard begin? Asked another way, where does your neighbor’s yard end and where does your yard begin? This is the boundary problem.

Now attempting to sound not so esoteric, I will say in passing that the ambiguity in where your yard ends and your neighbor’s yard begins is what systems scientist call the fuzzy boundary. And if you think about this for a moment, this makes sense. Neither of you really know where one yard ends and the other begins. But throughout the spring, summer, and early fall months, you both mow over each others boundaries. And this is fuzzy because neither of you know quite where one yard begins and the other ends.

Photo Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis

Photo Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis

Applying this idea to locations like South Minneapolis, Southwest Minneapolis, North Minneapolis, and Northeast Minneapolis, it becomes easy to see how difficult it is to make arguments for where one part of the city ends and the other begins. Sure, it is much easier to make an argument for the political boundaries. Those boundaries can be found in the Minneapolis city charter or on the City of Minneapolis website. Those sources not only differentiate the boundaries of the 13 wards from each other, but they also differentiate the respective neighborhoods inside of those 13 wards. And although the City of Minneapolis recognizes the four main parts of town – South Minneapolis, Southwest Minneapolis, North Minneapolis, and Northeast Minneapolis – that recognition really derives from the cultural influences of the citizens of those parts of town. In other words, the city recognizes the cultural and historical narratives of the residents. But it is quite difficult to make the cultural boundary argument.

Moving forward, it will be important to define the boundaries of Southwest Minneapolis, North Minneapolis, and Northeast Minneapolis. It will also be very important to define the boundaries of Minneapolis in general, which will include the cultural boundary argument, the economic boundary argument, the political boundary argument, and the geographic boundary argument. I expect the economic boundary argument to be the most difficult to construct and explain. My reasons for this will become apparent as I get further into the writings on this site.

For the time being, you might want to take this opportuniy to look at your property statement and find out where your property line ends and where your neighbor’s begins. This is provided you like your neighbor. If you don’t, then I say use the boundary problem to your advantage and keep mowing a bit further into his yard each time. Who knows, you may gain some additional property.

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