United States admin level
Administrative boundaries delineate levels of government, displayed as differently-rendered boundary lines. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes local government a matter of state rather than federal law, with the District of Columbia, territories and commonwealths as special cases. As a result, states have a wide variety of structures for local government. Nearly all states have an administrative subunit called "county" (or a county equivalent; "municipality" serves this purpose in territories and commonwealths), while incorporated local municipalities in the 50 states include "cities, towns and villages." Beyond this prototypical structure (and broadly speaking), some regional generalizations emerge: often found in the USA's midwestern states is a government between county and city called "township," while in the northeastern states known as New England, government tends towards weak-county (or township) / strong-city (or town/village), even to the point where "county" vanishes entirely. The US Census Bureau categorizes these administrative subunits every five years, with OSM usually aligning, though sometimes diverging: exceptions are noted due to slightly differing definitions and/or project consensus.
|State, District, Territory or Commonwealth|
|District of Columbia||N/A||Washington||N/A||Neighborhood tagged as place=suburb|
|The prototypical state
for states not listed below:
|N/A||County|| In states where these exist,
or any Minor civil division (MCD)
which is a government.
See Township (Civil township)
| (incorporated) City
(in some states)
(in some states)
| In cities or towns where these exist,
|Louisiana||N/A||Parish||Unincorporated community|| City
| In cities or towns where these exist,
|New York||New York City||Borough||N/A|
|City of Sherrill||N/A|
|Rhode Island||N/A||Town||City|| In towns or cities where these exist,
|Maine||N/A||County|| Unorganized territory as
Organized municipality as
|Vermont||N/A||County||Town||City|| In towns where these exist,
incorporated or unincorporated Village
|New Hampshire||N/A||County|| Town
|Borough (or Boro)||Town||N/A|
|New Jersey||N/A||County||N/A|| Borough
(colloquially called "town,"
but legally distinct)
|N/A|| City (all are
|Minnesota||N/A||County || Township
|Ohio||N/A||County (details)||Township (details)|| City
|Florida||N/A||County||Reedy Creek Improvement District|| City
|California||N/A||County||N/A|| (incorporated) City
(synonymous by law)
| In cities or towns where these exist,
(sometimes unofficially called "Village"),
as defined by a city
| In cities or towns where these exist,|
+ name=* may be effective or preferred
|American Samoa||N/A|| Municipality as
|Guam||N/A|| Municipality as
|Northern Mariana Islands||N/A|| Municipality as
One island group
|Puerto Rico||N/A||Municipio (Municipality)|| Barrio (Sub-municipality) and
| Ciudad (City)
|United States Virgin Islands||N/A|| Municipality as
|United States Minor Outlying Islands||N/A|
| State with Consolidated city-county
|N/A|| Consolidated city-county
(the CCC's County)
|N/A|| the CCC's City
(identical to its county)
| Specific instances of ICs in
|N/A|| Independent Cities (ICs)
Native American reservations
There is no consensus yet on how to tag Native American reservations, also known as Indian reservations and Domestic Dependent Nations. Different reservations have varying levels of interaction with local, state, and federal government agencies. These boundaries often cross state lines (in one case, a national border as well). These relationships are perhaps too complex to shoehorn into a hierarchical scheme like admin_level=*. Therefore, a common approach is to tag these with either boundary=aboriginal_lands or boundary=protected_area + protect_class=24, omitting the admin_level=* tag in either case. There are also state recognized tribes in the United States, which complicates matters somewhat, as the (federal) U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs does not recognize these tribes while individual sovereign states do. Also, specific distinctions should respect the unique entities of Hawaiian home land, Alaska Native tribal entities, Pueblo and Off-reservation trust land.
Not all boundaries are administrative
Census Designated Places (CDPs) are boundaries maintained by the US Department of Commerce's Census Bureau for statistical purposes. CDPs should be tagged boundary=census, ideally without an admin_level=* tag. In 2009, many CDPs were imported from TIGER as boundary=administrative + admin_level=8, but the talk-us mailing list reached a consensus to treat them as non-administrative boundaries. Additionally, the Census Bureau has revised its methodology regarding CDPs since 2009, causing many imported boundaries to fall out of date. There is some degree of support for removing the least relevant CDPs from OSM, but note that CDPs are relevant in some parts of the country, such as Alaska. While boundary=census remains a useful tag in some circumstances, other Census Bureau definitions, such as "Metropolitan Statistical Area" (MSA) also represent non-administrative boundaries: according to the US Government (Departments of Labor and Commerce, Executive Office of the President's Office of Management and Budget), "the delineations are intended to provide a nationally consistent set of geographic areas for collecting, tabulating, and publishing federal statistics." Therefore, MSAs and similar entities (μSAs, CSAs, PSAs, CBSAs...) are not truly administrative boundaries. Should these Census Bureau-based (multi)polygons be entered into OSM, tag them boundary=MSA, boundary=μSA, boundary=CSA, boundary=PSA or boundary=CBSA, respectively.
So-called "special districts," such as Councils of Governments (COGs), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and California's Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs), were proposed to be tagged boundary=administrative + admin_level=5. However, these proposals did not gain substantial consensus. If these are entered into OSM, tag them boundary=COG, boundary=MPO and boundary=LAFCO, respectively, ideally without an admin_level=* tag. From Discussion and OSM's plastic tagging/ability to coin, boundary=SPD emerges as acceptable on a Special Purpose District. Also, boundary=school is found on school district boundaries, though it is extremely rare: a recent taginfo shows boundary=administrative makes up about 7/8 of millions of OSM's boundary=* tags, yet there are fewer than 10 boundary=school tags in all of OSM.
The Census Bureau offers a helpful-to-OSM recognition of five local government types in the USA. Three are general-purpose governments: county (and "county equivalent"), township and municipal governments. The other two are special-purpose governments: special district governments and school district governments. OSM recognizes via consensus that the first three are tagged boundary=administrative + admin_level=6, 7 or 8. The latter two are not tagged boundary=administrative, but rather are tagged as in the previous paragraph.
Consolidated city-counties, Independent cities
40 Consolidated city-counties (CCCs) are found across the USA: in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin. With the exception of New York City (NYC), all CCCs span a single county. It may seem redundant at first glance, however for single-county CCCs, "tag twice" two identical (multi)polygons tagged boundary=administrative: one with admin_level=6, another with admin_level=8 representing both county and city, respectively. Even with many subtle distinctions in how CCCs differ from one another, OSM tags these admin_level=6, while the agglomeration of NYC has emerged with wide USA consensus as unique: NYC is the USA's only "consolidated city-county of multiple counties" (or county equivalents), so we tag it admin_level=5. If other CCCs grow by agglomerating entire multiple counties, these new multiple-county CCCs can appropriately promote from admin_level=6 to admin_level=5 to be consistent with NYC (see Discussion). "Tag twice" such multiple-county CCCs: for NYC, admin_level=5 on the consolidated city and admin_level=6 on each borough (county or county equivalent).
An Independent city (IC) is "a city not in the territory of any county or counties." ICs differ from CCCs as there is only one (multi)polygon to tag (admin_level=6, not admin_level=8, nor both, as in the case of all but one of USA's CCCs, NYC). ICs subordinate directly to their state (admin_level=4) with no intervening county, in what might be thought of as "a city with administrative level of (an urbanized) county, but not a county." In an example of consistency with the Census Bureau, OSM treats ICs as county equivalents.
Finally, an important distinction to note are the hundreds of USA cities (admin_level=8) which extend in a minor way into more than a single county (admin_level=6), the city slightly egressing into two, three, four or even five counties (as does Dallas, Texas). These are not and differ from CCCs and ICs. They should be tagged the same as other "regular" cities (and counties), except that city boundaries happen to cross county boundaries beyond the city's "home" or "primary" county.
In the United States, a "federal enclave" is a parcel of federal property within a state that is under the "Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States." Last officially tabulated in 1960, there were about 5,000 such enclaves, with about one million people living on them. These numbers are undoubtedly lower today because many of these areas were military bases that have been closed and transferred out of federal ownership. However, many remain, especially in Alaska and Hawaii. Since the late 1950s, it has been official federal policy that the states should have "full concurrent jurisdiction" on all federal enclaves. This implies that federal enclaves should be entered as two separate but identical boundary=administrative (multi)polygons, one tagged admin_level=2, the other tagged admin_level=4, to represent federal and state concurrent jurisdictions, respectively.
Homeowner associations, CIDs, MTIPs
In the United States, a "homeowner association" (HOA) is a private association formed by a real estate developer for the purpose of marketing, managing, and selling homes and lots in a residential subdivision. It grants the developer privileged voting rights in governing the association, while allowing the developer to exit financial and legal responsibility of the organization. Typically the developer will transfer ownership of the association to the homeowners after selling a predetermined number of lots. Generally any person who wants to buy a residence within the area of a homeowners association must become a member, and therefore must obey the several restrictions that often limit the owner's choices. Most homeowner associations are incorporated, and are subject to state statutes that govern non-profit corporations and homeowner associations. State oversight of homeowner associations is minimal, and it varies from state to state.
OSM has not reached a consensus on tagging HOAs in the USA. It may be that consensus emerges to tag them boundary=administrative + admin_level=10 on a state-by-state basis, but that has not occurred. It may emerge that boundary=HOA is appropriate if it is determined (perhaps in a particular state with a particular body of HOA law, or lack thereof) that HOAs are not administrative boundaries. Ongoing legal discussions and emerging case law in many states continue to determine whether HOAs are de jure governments, even if they are de facto communities as a municipal corporation. It may also emerge that landuse=residential + name=* tags appropriately capture these semantics without the need to additionally tag boundary=* with any particular value.
The fastest-growing form of housing in the United States today are common-interest developments (CIDs), a category of housing that includes planned unit (or urban) developments (PUDs) of single-family homes, condominiums and cooperative apartments. (As of 2010, 24.8 million American homes and 62 million residents are some form of CID). An alternative to CIDs is the multiple-tenant income property (MTIP), known in the United Kingdom as "housing estates." CIDs and MTIPs have fundamentally different forms of governance from each other. As with HOAs, no OSM consensus has emerged for CIDs, PUDs or MTIPs with regard to boundary=* or admin_level=*. Until better consensus emerges, tag these boundary=HOA, boundary=CID, boundary=PUD or boundary=MTIP.
- Admin level
- United States municipalities for a listing and reference information on US admin_level=8 entities.
-  describes which MCDs are governments starting on page 8-12.
- ITO Administrative Boundaries map
- OSM France map showing Admin Levels
- The District of Columbia may be considered an administrative subdivision of the United States at the same level as a state, territory or commonwealth.
- The city of Washington, coterminous with the District of Columbia, may be considered a "county equivalent," similar to a consolidated city-county (CCC), but strictly speaking, not a CCC.
- The "prototypical" structure as it is expressed in this row is intended to reduce clutter in the table. States with explicit row entries intend to convey administrative structure which significantly differs from this prototypical structure.
- There was a proposal in 2012 to map councils of governments (COGs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) as boundary=administrative + admin_level=5. It did not gain substantial consensus.
- The Census Bureau infers 20 states have civil townships: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Explicitly listing these 20 states with civil townships is intended to reduce clutter in the table.
- While it does not occur frequently over the whole of 3000+ United States counties, there are hundreds of city boundaries which extend beyond a single county in a minor way, the city slightly egressing into two, three or even four or five counties. In some states (Alabama, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas) this happens dozens of times, and so might be "somewhat frequent." These are not and differ from CCCs and ICs. New York City, a unique case, fully encompasses five county equivalents, different than these "egressing cities."
- Louisiana is divided into 64 parishes in the same way that 48 of the other states of the United States are divided into counties. A Louisiana parish is sometimes called a county equivalent.
- Unlike counties or county equivalents in the other 49 states, Alaska's 19 organized boroughs do not cover the entire land area of the state, leaving a large area (larger than any other state) known as the Unorganized Borough. An Alaska (organized) borough is sometimes called a county equivalent, although in the case of the Unorganized Borough this is not strictly accurate, as the Unorganized Borough is administered solely by the state to a large degree. (As an example of an exception to state administration in the Unorganized Borough, minor school district administration may happen locally). The Census Bureau, in cooperation with the state of Alaska, further divides the Unorganized Borough into ten census areas. Boroughs and census areas within the Unorganized Borough are both treated as county equivalents by the Census Bureau, however, in a divergence from the Census Bureau, OSM does not treat census-defined areas within the Unorganized Borough as county equivalents, so tag these boundary=census.
- Anchorage, Haines, Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell and Yakutat classify as consolidated city-boroughs (same as CCCs, admin_level=6 + admin_level=8), rather than cities (admin_level=8 alone). These all include City and Borough in their names, except for Anchorage, officially named Municipality of Anchorage, considered a consolidated city-borough under state law.
- In New York, a "Town" is effectively equivalent to an "incorporated township" in other states. In New York, it is also possible for a Town to be coterminous with its single Village in an entity known as a consolidated city-township.
- Connecticut's court jurisdictions still adhere to the county boundaries, except for Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven, which have been further subdivided into several jurisdictions.
- In 1960 Connecticut dissolved its county governments creating a vacuum of power at the regional level. In the 1980s the state established 15 regional councils with authority limited to land use policymaking, infrastructure development, emergency preparedness, and long-term planning. Effectively, counties are geographic entities, but not governmental jurisdictions, except for courts, while regions have limited authority, meaning most government administration is at state (4) and local (7, 8) levels.
- In Connecticut (as in most of New England), what is called a Town is effectively equivalent to Township in the rest of the USA.
- While it is geographically divided into five counties, Rhode Island effectively has no government at the county level. This is similar to Connecticut, but even more strict, as not even court jurisdictions are defined at the county level. This means all government administration is at state (4) and local (7, 8, 9) levels.
- Geographically divided into 14 counties, Massachusetts effectively has no county government in eight of them, similar to Rhode Island. This means in these eight counties (Berkshire, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Worcester and ?), all government administration is at state (4) and local (7, 8) levels.
- Similar to the rest of New England, county government in New Hampshire is very weak and has relatively few responsibilities compared to states in other regions: usually only local sheriff and jail services and nursing homes. Most local government functions are performed at the town (7) and city (8) levels.
- New Jersey is unique in the United States for having five distinct types of incorporated municipalities. Each type of municipality has equal legal standing, rights, and powers as any other type or form. Unlike other parts of the United States, New Jersey does not have different tiers of power or legal standing for its municipal governments. Each of the five types has an associated form of government of exactly the same title. By default municipalities have the form of government which corresponds to their type, i.e. a Township has the Township form of government. In New Jersey a municipality can choose a different form of government if its citizens do not wish to operate under the form that matches its type.
- Since 1871, all incorporated cities in Virginia have classified as independent cities (ICs). Of the 42 ICs in the US, 39 are in Virginia, whose state constitution makes them a special case. In Virginia when multiple local governments consolidate to form a city (legally an IC), it may be divided into geographical subdivisions called "boroughs", which may be the same as the existing cities, counties, or portions of such counties. To emphasize: these boroughs are not separate local governments, they are geographical in nature.
- In Michigan, the state universities are constitutionally autonomous jurisdictions, possessed of a special status somewhat equivalent to that of metropolitan municipality. That is, as bodies corporate, they operate as though they were municipalities, but they have autonomy from legislative and executive control. Each university has a board which is the sole legislative body for the campuses they control. These campuses are independent of all state laws, and under the sole control of the boards. The boards are responsible for all public services, e.g. policing, and fire protection. They often contract with the city they are located in for these services, but all have their own police departments.
- In Michigan, townships (including charter townships) and cities are mutually exclusive administrative subdivisions under the county level. No part of a township lies within a city and if the entire township is incorporated as a city or annexed to a city, the township ceases to exist in every sense.
- In Michigan, a city can be part of more than one county. County boundaries are not adjusted according to city boundaries. There are no independent cities or consolidated city-counties.
- In Michigan, a charter township is equal to any other township, it is not an incorporated municipality. The charter in its name refers to the exercise of local options for township government provided by state law, an aspect of "home rule."
- In Michigan, a village is subordinate to a township and can span more than one township. Villages can also span more than one county.
- Portions of some Minnesota counties are "unorganized" — that is, not a township or city — and are governed by the county board. As such, they have no boundary=administrative of their own, but will display as "holes" in other such boundaries.
- Minnesota's townships were formed from the Congressional townships formed by the Public Land Survey, but have often been modified since then. However, they always remain in one county. In Minnesota, townships and cities are mutually exclusive administrative subdivisions under the county level. No part of a township lies within a city and if the entire township is incorporated as a city or annexed to a city, the township ceases to exist in every sense. Cities may sometimes detach land back to surrounding townships, or even be entirely dissolved and become part of a township. NOTE: Township boundaries in Minnesota are not currently entered in OSM.
- In Minnesota, as in many other states, a city can be part of more than one county. County boundaries are not adjusted according to city boundaries. In this sense, Minnesota's structure in the table is likely prototypical for several other (often northeastern or midwestern) states.
- Some cities such as Minneapolis have well-defined neighborhood boundaries that are used by neighborhood organizations.
- For neighborhood councils in Ohio's largest cities. May or may not correspond to voting wards. Use discretion; smaller cities' neighborhoods may be better served by landuse polygons.
- In Wisconsin, what is called a Town is effectively equivalent to Township in the rest of the USA. In this sense, Wisconsin's structure in the table is likely prototypical for several other (often northeastern or midwestern) states.
- There was a proposal in 2012 to map California's Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) as boundary=administrative + admin_level=5. It did not gain substantial consensus.
- California pioneered (in Lakewood) the concept of a "contract city" whereby a city contracts one or more municipal services to another unit of government, or to a private or commercial organization, often via a "franchise" agreement. Most of the contracts are for police or fire / rescue / paramedic services to the county in which the cities lies. Contract cities also exist in other states, such as Colorado and Georgia.
- Unique to Hawaii is the lack of municipal governments. All local governments are generally administered at the county level. The only incorporated area in the state is Honolulu County, a consolidated city–county that governs the entire island of Oahu. Entities resembling local government are in fact special-purpose districts. This means all government administration is at state (4) and county (6) levels.
- American Samoa, a substantially populated unincorporated unorganized territory, is divided into five municipalities: 3 districts (Eastern, Western, Manu'a) and 2 unorganized atolls (Rose Atoll, Swains Island). In Territories and Commonwealths, "Municipality" has a distinct meaning as county equivalent (admin_level=6), not the sense of a city or town (or similar, admin_level=8) in the 50 states. This is true even in American Samoa, as the admin_level=* immediately below Municipality (admin_level=6) is, in fact, "County" (admin_level=7).
- The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands is divided into four municipalities: Islands north of Saipan form the Northern Islands Municipality, although because of volcanic threat, these were evacuated and remain uninhabited. The three main islands of the Southern Islands form the municipalities of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, with uninhabited Aguijan forming part of Tinian municipality.
- The Census Bureau defines a Municipio as a county equivalent, similar to parish in Louisiana or borough in Alaska.
- An urban core with a population of 50,000 or above is considered a ciudad (city), while one with under 50,000 inhabitants is termed pueblo (town).
- All but three of the United States Minor Outlying Islands are uninhabited. Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnson Atoll, Kingman Reef, Wake Island's wildlife and most of Palmyra Atoll are administered by the United States Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (land areas) and the United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (ocean areas) as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Parts of Palmyra Atoll (Cooper Island and ten other land parcels) are privately administered by The Nature Conservancy, Inc. which manages them as a nature reserve. Palmyra Atoll is the only incorporated unorganized territory of the US, with a population of between 4 and 20. All other United States Minor Outlying Islands are unincorporated unorganized territories.
Midway Islands are also under Fish and Wildlife Service jurisdiction as the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial, part of the greater Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (Papahānaumokuākea, which also includes the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge). Approximately 50 people live on Midway's Sand Island, all of them staff of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and contract workers.
Wake Island is a restricted-access active airfield administered by the United States Department of Defense (Air Force) with a population of about 94. Wake Island is also claimed (as Enen-kio) by the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Navassa Island, Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo Bank are also uninhabited unincorporated unorganized territories of the US, though these are disputed: the first is claimed by Haiti, the latter two are administered by Columbia, though are claimed by the United States (since 1879 under the Guano Islands Act) as well as by Jamaica and Nicaragua. Serranilla Bank is also claimed by Honduras. In 2012, a claim for Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo Bank was resolved in favor of Colombia by the International Court of Justice.
- As of 2017, there are 40 consolidated city-counties in the United States, including Anchorage, Denver, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco. For example, San Francisco is both a county (political division) of California, and an incorporated city, which includes seemingly redundant administration in some cases: it has both County Sheriff deputies as well as City Police officers, each of which serve distinct legal purposes (and act with mutual aid when necessary).
- Established by the Constitution of Maryland, Baltimore is not part of any county and is the largest independent city in the United States. A separate entity, Baltimore city is distinct from Baltimore County, not consolidated with it.
- In an act of "urban secession," Saint Louis separated from Saint Louis County in 1877, becoming an independent city and limiting its own political boundaries. A separate entity, Saint Louis city is distinct from Saint Louis County, not consolidated with it.
- The Consolidated Municipality of Carson City is an independent city, meaning it has effectively subsumed Ormsby County, which no longer exists. While "Consolidated" remains in the official name of Carson City, it is an independent city, not a consolidated city-county; there is no longer an Ormsby County.
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