William Penn PA conservation figure

William Penn

October 14, 1644 – July 30, 1718

William Penn founded the Province of Pennsylvania, the British North American colony that became the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The democratic principles that he set forth served as an inspiration for the United States Constitution.

Although Penn’s authority over the colony was officially subject only to that of the king, through his Frame of Government he implemented a democratic system with full freedom of religion, fair trials, elected representatives of the people in power, and a separation of powers — again ideas that would later form the basis of the American constitution.

In 1682, Penn became one of our first conservationists when he made a move to conserve woodlands. Penn ruled that those who took titles to portions of the grant had to leave one acre wooded for every five they cleared.   His visionary requirement is a genuine mark of conservation leadership in that it demonstrates the ability to think in the long term, to think strategically, and to impact people beyond his immediate influence.

Penn’s conceptions of Philadelphia may be characterized as one of the earliest attempts at utopian city planning. His original vision of a “greene Country Towne” seeks to replicate this model of life in the New World. The first plan called for individual houses to be separated from their neighbors by sizable areas of green which should be situated “”in the most Convenient place upon the river for health & Navigation.”” He also kept the concept of a greenbelt encircling the metropolis, itself a forerunner of the modern suburb. The lots marked off on the map were either one acre or half an acre in size, plenty large enough for all to plant their own gardens.

Penn was so interested in parks and gardens in part because he realized some of the dangers inherent in the 17th century city. He had lived through London’s bubonic plague of 1665 and great fire of 1666. And so it is not surprising that he envisioned his ‘greene towne’ as one “which will never be burnt, and always be wholesome.”