United States admin level

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Administrative boundaries delineate levels of government, displayed in OSM as different-appearing boundary lines depending on level. In the USA, tag a truly administrative/government (multi)polygon boundary boundary=administrative + admin_level=* where the value of admin_level=* (4 through 10) is guided by this wiki and the following table:

admin_level=* 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
State, District, Territory or Commonwealth
District of Columbia[1] N/A Washington[2] N/A Neighborhood tagged as place=suburb
The prototypical[3] state
admin_level=* structure
for states not listed below:
N/A[4] County In states where these exist[5],
Civil township
or any Minor civil division (MCD)
which is a government.
See Township (Civil township)
(incorporated) City[6]
(incorporated) Town
(in some states)
(incorporated) Village
(in some states)
In cities or towns where these exist, Ward N/A
Louisiana N/A Parish[7] Unincorporated community City
In cities or towns where these exist, Ward N/A
Alaska N/A Borough[8] N/A City N/A
New York New York City Borough N/A
N/A County N/A City
Town[9] Village N/A
City of Sherrill N/A
Connecticut N/A County[10]
Town City
Rhode Island N/A[12] City
In cities or towns where these exist,
Massachusetts N/A County[13] N/A City
Maine N/A County Unorganized territory as
Organized municipality as
incorporated City
incorporated Town
unincorporated Plantation
Vermont N/A County N/A City
In towns where these exist,
incorporated or unincorporated Village
New Hampshire N/A County[14] N/A City
Michigan[15] N/A County N/A City[16][17] N/A
Charter Township[18]
Village[19] N/A
Minnesota N/A County [20] Township[21] City[22] N/A Neighborhood[23]
Ohio N/A County (details) Township (details) City
N/A "Neighborhood"[24]
Wisconsin N/A County Town[25] City
Virginia N/A County N/A Town
Unincorporated community
(colloquially called "towns,"
but legally distinct from them)
N/A City (all are ICs)[26] N/A
New Jersey[27] N/A County N/A Borough
Pennsylvania N/A County N/A City
Incorporated Town
Illinois N/A County N/A City
Florida N/A County Reedy Creek Improvement District City
California N/A[28] County N/A (incorporated) City[29]
(incorporated) Town
(no difference except in name)
By consensus,
"Planning Areas"
(sometimes called Villages)
as defined by a City
In cities or towns where these exist,
Neighborhood as defined by Cities,
although landuse=residential
may be effective or preferred
Hawaii N/A County[30] N/A
American Samoa N/A Municipality as
Unorganized Atoll
County Village N/A
Guam N/A Municipality as
Northern Mariana Islands N/A Municipality as
One island group
Puerto Rico N/A Municipio (Municipality)[33] Barrio (Sub-municipality) and
Sector (Section)
Ciudad (City)
Pueblo (Town)[34]
United States Virgin Islands N/A Municipality as
N/A Subdistrict Quarter Estate
United States Minor Outlying Islands[35] N/A
State with consolidated city-county
N/A Consolidated city-counties
(the CCC's County)
N/A the CCC's City N/A
Specific instances in:
N/A Independent Cities (ICs) of
Baltimore, [37]
Carson City [38] and
Saint Louis [39]

Native American reservations

There is no consensus yet on how to tag Native American reservations, also known as Indian reservations and Domestic Dependent Nations.[40] 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.[41] 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 the database, 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 appear to 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 are not truly administrative boundaries.

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 with boundary=administrative + admin_level=5. However, these proposals did not gain substantial consensus. If these are entered into OSM, consider tagging them (respectively) boundary=COG, boundary=MPO and boundary=LAFCO, again, ideally without an admin_level=* tag. From Discussion and OSM's plastic tagging/ability to coin, it emerges that boundary=SPD is acceptable on a Special Purpose District. Also, it appears that boundary=school on school district boundaries, while extremely rare, is also found in OSM.

The Census Bureau offers a helpful-to-OSM recognition of five basic types of local governments. Three are 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 other two are not tagged boundary=administrative, but rather are tagged as in the previous paragraph. School districts are very rarely entered into OSM: a recent taginfo shows boundary=administrative makes up ~90% of millions of OSM's boundary=* tags, yet there are <10 boundary=school tags.

Consolidated city-counties, ICs

Consolidated city-counties (CCCs) are found 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 sole 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" the same (multi)polygon tagged boundary=administrative: first with admin_level=6 and again with admin_level=8 to represent both the county and city, respectively. Even with many subtle distinctions in how CCCs differ from one another, we tag them admin_level=6, while the agglomeration of NYC has emerged with wide USA consensus as a unique admin_level=5. Research reveals NYC is USA's only "consolidated city-county of multiple counties" (or county equivalents). If they exist (or grow to become by agglomerating entire multiple counties), other multiple-county CCCs can appropriately change from admin_level=6 to admin_level=5 to be consistent with NYC (see Discussion). "Tag twice" such multiple-county CCCs: in the case of NYC, admin_level=5 on the consolidated city and admin_level=6 on each borough (county or county equivalent).

Note OSM distinguishes between hundreds of cities (admin_level=8) which extend in a minor way into multiple counties (admin_level=6, the city egressing into two, three, four or even five counties, as does Dallas, Texas), CCCs (tagged on two separate but identical polygons, one admin_level=6, the other admin_level=8) and CCCs which encompass multiple entire counties (or county equivalents), as does NYC (admin_level=5 on the consolidated city and admin_level=6 on each borough).

Finally, an Independent city (IC) is "a city not in the territory of any county or counties." ICs differ from CCCs as there is only a single (multi)polygon to tag (admin_level=6).

Federal enclaves

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 the 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 any consensus on tagging HOAs in the USA. It may be that consensus emerges to tag them boundary=administrative + admin_level=10 (or admin_level=9, as in Irvine, California) 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.

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 and boundary=MTIP.

See also


  1. The District of Columbia may be considered an administrative subdivision of the United States at the same level as a state, territory or commonwealth.
  2. The city of Washington, coterminous with the District of Columbia, may be considered a "county equivalent."
  3. In this table, states with explicit row entries intend to reflect administrative subdivision structure which differs from the "prototypical" structure.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 the 20 states with civil townships is intended to reduce clutter in the table.
  6. 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. New York City, a unique case, fully encompasses five county equivalents, different than any of these "egressing cities."
  7. 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."
  8. Unlike county equivalents in the other 49 states, Alaska's organized boroughs do not cover the entire land area of the state, leaving a large area known as the Unorganized Borough which is mostly administered by the state. An Alaska borough is sometimes called a "county equivalent," although in the case of the Unorganized Borough, this is not strictly accurate.
  9. In New York, a "Town" is 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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 (8, 9) levels.
  13. Geographically divided into 14 counties, Massachusetts has no effective county government in eight of them, similar to Rhode Island. This means in these eight counties, all government administration is at state (4) and local (8) levels.
  14. 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 services, nursing homes, and prisons. Most local government functions are performed at the city and town level.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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."
  19. In Michigan, a village is subordinate to a township and can span more than one township. Villages can also span more than one county.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Some cities such as Minneapolis have well-defined neighborhood boundaries that are used by neighborhood organizations.
  24. 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.
  25. What Wisconsin calls a Town is effectively equivalent to Township in the rest of the USA.
  26. Since 1871, all incorporated cities in Virginia have classified as independent cities (ICs). Of the 41 ICs in the US, 38 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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 consesus.
  29. California also 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.
  30. 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.
  31. 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).
  32. 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.
  33. The Census Bureau defines a Municipio as a "county equivalent," similar to parish in Louisiana or borough in Alaska.
  34. 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).
  35. 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.
  36. As of 2017, there are 40 consolidated city-counties in the United States, including Anchorage, Denver, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco. For example, San Francisco is both a county (political division) of California, in addition to being 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 (which act with mutual aid when necessary). The Wikipedia article Consolidated city-county lists and describes subtle distinctions such as "consolidated since creation," "merged" and "merged with some independent municipalities," as well as offers both historical perspective and cities/counties which have considered or are considering consolidation.
  37. Established by the Constitution of Maryland, Baltimore is not part of any county and is the largest independent city in the United States.
  38. The Consolidated Municipality of Carson City is an independent city, meaning it has effectively subsumed Ormsby County, which no longer exists.
  39. 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.
  40. See threads beginning at: [1] [2] [3] [4]
  41. See threads beginning at: [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]