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    Urban and rural definition

    By density standards, what is considered rural and urban? I heard anything more than 1,000 ppl per square mile is urban and anything less is rural.

    But I can't remember where I got this info. Also, I feel like a place like a downtown with four story and five story buildings feels urban.

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    Density is a very specific term. Different towns will define rural and urban differently. I have worked in farming exurbs where high density was 7 DU/AC and in inner-ring towns where high density was 100 DU/AC.

    The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy publishes a book called Visualizing Density which is an excellent resource to viewing various densities. It includes a development at 1.3 DU/AC, 4.5 DU/AC, up to 300? DU/AC (which would be in New York City). However, my biggest concern is (1) the book does not differentiate between gross and net density, which is a key concern when stressing minimum lot size in zoning ordinances and (2) the examples don't show any open space set aside in the development.

    The book also notes that congestion is subjective stemming from bad factors in site design and circulation. A street with a high density could "feel" more congested or it "feel" more open.
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    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    By density standards, what is considered rural and urban? .....
    It will vary from community to community. We have three service areas:

    Rural: Not more than 1 dwelling unit per 10 acres.
    Suburban: Not more than 5 dwelling units per acre subject to being located on a paved road and the availability of municipal water and sewer.
    Urban: Not more than 25 dwelling units per acre subject to the availability of municipal water and sewer (unless it's a seasonal resort condo, then no density restriction applies).

  4. #4
    I wrote a paper for an academic journal where a colleague and I were trying to describe sprawl. We set the rural definition as less than 200 people per square mile, suburban at less than 3500, and urban above that line. We were trying to come up with a standard that could be applied nationally. Of course local people could define things differently.

    Private message me if you want a copy of the paper.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    By density standards, what is considered rural and urban? I heard anything more than 1,000 ppl per square mile is urban and anything less is rural.

    But I can't remember where I got this info. Also, I feel like a place like a downtown with four story and five story buildings feels urban.
    I think your definition is way too simplistic because I think there are at least major four divisions: urban, suburban, exurban, and rural -- and those don't quite cover the tiny towns that consist of a dozen or fewer houses, a VFD, a luncheonette, and a church clustered at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere or even a rural mobile home park that might contain 10-15 trailers. The availability of municipal water and sewer, as RJ noted, are crucial. You can't have enough density to get much beyond "exurban" (think suburban on 1-10 acre lots) without them.

    Moreover, many suburbs have densities of more than 1,000 per square mile while many city neighborhoods with densities well over 1,000 don't have a single building over 3 stories high. Still, the 'burbs will look and feel "suburban" and the city neighborhoods will look and feel "urban".

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I think your definition is way too simplistic because I think there are at least major four divisions: urban, suburban, exurban, and rural -- and those don't quite cover the tiny towns that consist of a dozen or fewer houses, a VFD, a luncheonette, and a church clustered at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere or even a rural mobile home park that might contain 10-15 trailers. The availability of municipal water and sewer, as RJ noted, are crucial. You can't have enough density to get much beyond "exurban" (think suburban on 1-10 acre lots) without them.

    Moreover, many suburbs have densities of more than 1,000 per square mile while many city neighborhoods with densities well over 1,000 don't have a single building over 3 stories high. Still, the 'burbs will look and feel "suburban" and the city neighborhoods will look and feel "urban".
    My definition came off of what is listed by the Census Bureau and that it was taught in my Intro to Urban Planning class. They are combing low density suburban and urban together and making everything else rural.

    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    It will vary from community to community. We have three service areas:

    Rural: Not more than 1 dwelling unit per 10 acres.
    Suburban: Not more than 5 dwelling units per acre subject to being located on a paved road and the availability of municipal water and sewer.
    Urban: Not more than 25 dwelling units per acre subject to the availability of municipal water and sewer (unless it's a seasonal resort condo, then no density restriction applies).
    I didn't know each city has it's town standard for what is considered rural, suburban and urban.

    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    I wrote a paper for an academic journal where a colleague and I were trying to describe sprawl. We set the rural definition as less than 200 people per square mile, suburban at less than 3500, and urban above that line. We were trying to come up with a standard that could be applied nationally. Of course local people could define things differently.

    Private message me if you want a copy of the paper.
    I definitely agree with your standards. I don't think there will ever be a national standard though. I heard there used to be one back in the 60s.

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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    I definitely agree with your standards. I don't think there will ever be a national standard though. I heard there used to be one back in the 60s.
    The urban/rural construct in the 60s and before was from the census and was simple. A place over 2500 population was urban, anything less was not urban. Density was not part of the calculation. And btw, it was no better than any newer definitions.

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    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    The 1,000 persons per square mile definition for urban areas comes from Census 2000:

    http://www.census.gov/geo/www/ua/ua_2k.html

    This criteria is changing for Census 2010:

    http://www.census.gov/geo/www/ua/201...uralclass.html

    If you read the introduction to the Federal Register notice "Proposed Urban Area Criteria for the 2010 Census" (PDF) , there is a nice little history of the changes in the way the Bureau measured urban areas.

    Don't forget that the Census Bureau does everything for a reason, and that reason is usually in support of a government program. So, they created a definition of "urban" and "rural" places to satisfy programs like the USDA's Rural Housing Service Program and HUD's many programs for urban areas. Note that the Bureau doesn't track what is "suburban," because there are no Federal programs that are specifically aimed at suburban areas.

    As for actual working definitions used by localities, I think all the previous posters have shown that the true answer is "it depends."

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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    The urban/rural construct in the 60s and before was from the census and was simple. A place over 2500 population was urban, anything less was not urban. Density was not part of the calculation. And btw, it was no better than any newer definitions.
    I heard like suburban was considered 30 minutes from an urban core and urban was like 2,000-4,999 was exurban and that 5,000 ppl per square mile was urban.

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    Another question I have is at what point are you considered in a town or out in the country. I think being an hour or more away from a large city and being low density in most cases would be considered the country. All of the Central Coast I would consider mostly rural and suburban and in the country.

    Victorville, Palmdale, Lancaster, and other such cities I would consider towns.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    Another question I have is at what point are you considered in a town or out in the country. I think being an hour or more away in most cases would be considered the country. All of the Central Coast I would consider mostly rural and suburban and in the country.

    Victorville, Palmdale, Lancaster, and other such cities I would consider towns.
    Again, that depends. I live in a city. It's a small city -- an overgrown town really -- but it has things you'd expect in a city: an independent municipal government, a concentration of commerce and industry, a real downtown with multistory buildings, a decent hospital, numerous doctors, a large public library, a number of suburbs, and a fairly high population density, especially given it's in a county of 1200 square miles and a population of 130,000. It's also the biggest population center between Erie, PA and Binghamton, NY going east-west and 2nd biggest between Buffalo and Pittsburgh going north-south (Erie, PA, is the largest). Within 5 miles of Jamestown going north-south, you're in out in the country. Going east and west, ,especially west along the shore of Chautauqua Lake, it's more suburban.

    Moreover, in Upstate NY, there are lots of little towns fairly close together. The rural areas were much more populous 100-150 years than they are today because there were many more small farms. As the economy changed from agriculture to a mix of commercial/industrial, towns grew up around small manufacturing plants and providing services. Almost every little town in Cattaraugus County had two or three small factories when I was a kid. My Dad worked in the local tannery. One of our neighbors worked about 15 miles away in a plywood factory. Another neighbor worked for a cutlery maker. Those jobs are mostly all gone, but the towns are still there, smaller but still the centers for services that they were fifty years ago.

    I think the historic patterns of landholding and town building in the South and the Midwest as well as in the Mountain West are significantly different from what they are in the Northeast or the Great Lakes. These places were all settled at different times by people with different ideas about the kind of places they wanted to live in. The dominant agricultural/commercial economies also shaped the areas, so today, it's not a simple, "one size fits all" definition.

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    Again, that depends. I live in a city. It's a small city -- an overgrown town really -- but it has things you'd expect in a city: an independent municipal government, a concentration of commerce and industry, a real downtown with multistory buildings, a decent hospital, numerous doctors, a large public library, a number of suburbs, and a fairly high population density, especially given it's in a county of 1200 square miles and a population of 130,000. It's also the biggest population center between Erie, PA and Binghamton, NY going east-west and 2nd biggest between Buffalo and Pittsburgh going north-south (Erie, PA, is the largest). Within 5 miles of Jamestown going north-south, you're in out in the country. Going east and west, ,especially west along the shore of Chautauqua Lake, it's more suburban.

    Moreover, in Upstate NY, there are lots of little towns fairly close together. The rural areas were much more populous 100-150 years than they are today because there were many more small farms. As the economy changed from agriculture to a mix of commercial/industrial, towns grew up around small manufacturing plants and providing services. Almost every little town in Cattaraugus County had two or three small factories when I was a kid. My Dad worked in the local tannery. One of our neighbors worked about 15 miles away in a plywood factory. Another neighbor worked for a cutlery maker. Those jobs are mostly all gone, but the towns are still there, smaller but still the centers for services that they were fifty years ago.

    I think the historic patterns of landholding and town building in the South and the Midwest as well as in the Mountain West are significantly different from what they are in the Northeast or the Great Lakes. These places were all settled at different times by people with different ideas about the kind of places they wanted to live in. The dominant agricultural/commercial economies also shaped the areas, so today, it's not a simple, "one size fits all" definition.
    How tall are the tall buildings in your downtown? The largest city in my area is at 45,000 population and has everything you described and even a small airport. But the buildings in downtown only reach 5 stories. So is it a small city, I would say no. Density is pretty low like around 1,200 ppl per square mile. It's technically a small city, but it definitately feels like it should be called a town.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    Another question I have is at what point are you considered in a town or out in the country. I think being an hour or more away from a large city and being low density in most cases would be considered the country. All of the Central Coast I would consider mostly rural and suburban and in the country.

    Victorville, Palmdale, Lancaster, and other such cities I would consider towns.
    Palmdale is hardly in the "country". It has a population of over 152,000. Yes, it is over an hour away from a "large city" but seriously, this would be considered a large city by most people just by population alone.

    According to the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance report[3] of 2009 the Palmdale / Lancaster, CA Urbanized Area (a US Census Bureau defined term) has a population of 483,998.

    Are you calling this rural? Does this mean Fresno is rural? How about Sacramento? How about half the towns/cities in America.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Palmdale is hardly in the "country". It has a population of over 152,000. Yes, it is over an hour away from a "large city" but seriously, this would be considered a large city by most people just by population alone.

    According to the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance report[3] of 2009 the Palmdale / Lancaster, CA Urbanized Area (a US Census Bureau defined term) has a population of 483,998.

    Are you calling this rural? Does this mean Fresno is rural? How about Sacramento? How about half the towns/cities in America.
    I guess my standards are off then. So would Palmdale be considered a large city to most? Or small sized city? It's pretty spread out and low density. That's why I thought be a town. I would consider Fresno and Sacramento large cities and Palmdale would be suburban and rural.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    It will vary from community to community.
    RJ speaks wisdom here

    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    I guess my standards are off then. So would Palmdale be considered a large city to most? Or small sized city? It's pretty spread out and low density. That's why I thought be a town. I would consider Fresno and Sacramento large cities and Palmdale would be suburban and rural.
    Fresno and Sacramento are pretty spread out and have lower desnities, but compared to what? LA, SF, Portland, Seattle, Houston, Miami, NYC, Chicago. You bet is is spread out and low density.

    Now, Compare them to places like Indianapolis, Des Moines, Nashville. Compared to these cities, Fresno and Sacramento have higher densities and "seem" less spread out.

    What i am trying to say, as is others, it is all in the eye of the beholder of what is "large" and what is small.

    I think modesto is small because i grew up in the 1 million plus Sacramento metro area. Comparatively, my dad think Sacramento is small because he live quite a few years in San Francisco. It just all depends.

    What is rural? Montana (no disrespect to Otterpop). in my book yes. What is suburban? Hell if i know, i just know it where i see it i guess.
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    RJ speaks wisdom here



    Fresno and Sacramento are pretty spread out and have lower desnities, but compared to what? LA, SF, Portland, Seattle, Houston, Miami, NYC, Chicago. You bet is is spread out and low density.

    Now, Compare them to places like Indianapolis, Des Moines, Nashville. Compared to these cities, Fresno and Sacramento have higher densities and "seem" less spread out.

    What i am trying to say, as is others, it is all in the eye of the beholder of what is "large" and what is small.

    I think modesto is small because i grew up in the 1 million plus Sacramento metro area. Comparatively, my dad think Sacramento is small because he live quite a few years in San Francisco. It just all depends.

    What is rural? Montana (no disrespect to Otterpop). in my book yes. What is suburban? Hell if i know, i just know it where i see it i guess.
    Hmm, we could go by the Canadians standard of 100,000 population justifies for a city but Santa Monica is at 92,000 and is pretty city-ish at it gets. I would consider Fresno and Sacramento to be spread out, but having lots of open-space and rural areas I would say no. When I said spread out I meant like lots of open spaces.

    Much of Ventura County I would consider to be city-ish. Ventura, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, and Oxnard are all suburban with little rural and opens-spaces.

    Irvine, Costa Mesa, Mission Viejo, Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Fullerton are all cities in Orange County.

    I guess you can say Palmdale and Lancaster are suburban and like Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

    Still some would consider Palmdale and Modesto to be towns even though it's very suburban.

    In the Central Coast, I would say we have no cities. I even consider Santa Maria, Salinas, and Santa Barbara towns.But if you want to get technical, then almost every incorporated place in California is a city.

    I did hear that the Planning and Research Development Department of California decided what is considered a small, medium, and large city. 1-75,000 was small, 75,000-250,000 medium, and 250,000 and up was large.
    Last edited by urban19; 07 Dec 2010 at 10:57 PM.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    How tall are the tall buildings in your downtown?
    50-75 stories. Detroit's downtown is tiny compared to Chicago, Toronto, or New York. Closest places I've seen on its scale is somewhere between Philadelphia and Cleveland; though Detroit's buildings are generally taller. Downtown also has the least amount of population density of anywhere in the city except for the factory zones.

    100k in Canada is arbitrary at best. I am not sure about the rest of Canada, but Ontario has gone through an amalgamation process that has essentially made some cities the size of counties. The overwhelming majority of the land area in places like Chatham-Kent is devoted to agriculture, yet it functions as a city. It has about 110,000 residents but covers about 2,500 square kilometers (950 square miles). This makes its density a little over 1,000 per square mile.

    My point? You can't be fixated on urban or rural as something that is quantifiable. The best you can so is understand that most rural characteristics result in agricultural or wilderness zones interspersed with housing where opportunities arise (access to utilities, water features), though with the advent of housing being developed truely off-grid, this opens up even remote areas for development. Urban is easy, its everything that is not rural. Now the difference between suburban and urban patterns is open to debate because you can find some very large cities that have quite a bit of density that are suburban (see Toronto) or you can have central cities that mix both urban and suburban development styles because of thier enormous size (Detroit, Columbus, Indianapolis).
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    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    I did hear that the Planning and Research Development Department of California decided what is considered a small, medium, and large city. 1-75,000 was small, 75,000-250,000 medium, and 250,000 and up was large.
    Different definitions of urban will serve different purposes. I think many people have tried to make that point here. Don't get hung up on what the census says, or what OPR says. There's a reason why they quantify and categorize... it helps them with very specific purposes, like distribution of funding, etc. But don't allow these definitions to determine how you think about what's considered urban and what's not. "Urban" is an idea, a concept; it connotes a lot of different things. Tell a mother you live in an "urban" area, and the mother will think of gangs and crime. Tell a college student you live in an "urban" area, and it's something totally different, like a place to go to for hanging out.

    In fact, some of the categorization of urban/not urban, metropolitan/not metropolitan can be counter productive. I will site a very specific example with my work in the city's Housing Element. Calfornia State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) requires that my city require a density of at least 30 units per acre for proposed multi-family housing developments to qualify as "affordable", and have those units be counted towards our state mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). This requirement is due to the fact that my city is located in Los Angeles County, a defined metropolitan area. It fails to consider the local housing market, the overall density of my city, etc. My city is a suburban community, and 15 units per acre is considered dense by local standards. Besides, everything in our housing stock is affordable anyway, so this entire exercise with the Housing Element is pointless... but that's another separate rant altogether. Hope no one from CA HCD lurks around here.

    All I am saying is that quantified definitions for urban/rural provide little to no value in broad planning and land use discussions. They are only as good as the functions they serve for the agencies that created the definitions.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    How tall are the tall buildings in your downtown? The largest city in my area is at 45,000 population and has everything you described and even a small airport. But the buildings in downtown only reach 5 stories. So is it a small city, I would say no. Density is pretty low like around 1,200 ppl per square mile. It's technically a small city, but it definitately feels like it should be called a town.
    There are downtown buildings with more than 5 stories, but I've never counted the stories. Because Jamestown is set in a fairly steep sided valley, building space was at a premium, so many buildings went up rather than spreading out. Again, that's just another one of those unique things about different places.

    A city is more than just an arbitrary density or a specific distance from a larger city. A city is a service/shopping/amenity center for the much less populated around it. In the Boston-New York-Washington metroplex, Jamestown would be a small town, but because it's in Chautauqua County, which has around 108 people per square mile -- 1200 square miles with 130,000 -- it's the major "city". BTW, even that 108 is inflated. Given that more than half the people in Chautauqua County live in cities and villages, the density outside of those places is probably between 55 and 60 people per square mile.

  20. #20
    One additional finding from our national work: When we subtracted out the rural parts of metro areas (those census tracts with less than 200 people per square mile), the 3500 people per square mile break between urban and suburban definitions was pretty close to dividing the remaining metro population into two equal haves.

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    So what would be considered a city and town? Officially, a city and town are both incorporated communities. Now a days, I think people refer to towns as a community with less than 100,000 population.

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    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    So what would be considered a city and town? Officially, a city and town are both incorporated communities. Now a days, I think people refer to towns as a community with less than 100,000 population.
    Officially? Who are these officials? And what's your point? I've seen communities of similar sizes call themselves either "town of..." or "city of...". It's a vanity thing and means nothing.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    So what would be considered a city and town? Officially, a city and town are both incorporated communities. Now a days, I think people refer to towns as a community with less than 100,000 population.
    Once again, you're missing the point everyone's been making: it depends.

    In NYS, a town is a political subdivision of a county, a village is an incorporated area within a town or among towns, and a city is an incorporated area outside a town or towns . A few villages in NYS spread over multiple towns and/or counties, but the only city that I know of that is spread over multiple counties is NYC. These divisions have absolutely nothing to do with population or density but are simply based on political alignments from 150-200 years ago and present-day politics.

    Moreover, unless you live in a burgeoning metro like the Boston-Washington metroplex or Chicago or California, virtually all communities with 100,000 population are going to viewed as cities no matter what their official designation. You cannot arbitrarily judge all places based on what you see in your own area. There are 11 communities of 100,000+ people in Colorado, 2 in Nebraska, 5 in Missouri, 7 in Michigan, 5 in New York, and 5 in Georgia -- and none in Wyoming. I guarantee that there are more cities in these states than just the number listed.

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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    Once again, you're missing the point everyone's been making: it depends.

    In NYS, a town is a political subdivision of a county, a village is an incorporated area within a town or among towns, and a city is an incorporated area outside a town or towns . A few villages in NYS spread over multiple towns and/or counties, but the only city that I know of that is spread over multiple counties is NYC. These divisions have absolutely nothing to do with population or density but are simply based on political alignments from 150-200 years ago and present-day politics.

    Moreover, unless you live in a burgeoning metro like the Boston-Washington metroplex or Chicago or California, virtually all communities with 100,000 population are going to viewed as cities no matter what their official designation. You cannot arbitrarily judge all places based on what you see in your own area. There are 11 communities of 100,000+ people in Colorado, 2 in Nebraska, 5 in Missouri, 7 in Michigan, 5 in New York, and 5 in Georgia -- and none in Wyoming. I guarantee that there are more cities in these states than just the number listed.
    Well towns are referred to as communities being more spread out and cities are more compact.

    I think in the California charter, an incorporated community can rather take on the name of "city of' or "town of". I heard it varies state by state, but I wish we had a national definition of what a city or town is. Then for an un-incorporated community there is no name.

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    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by urban19 View post
    Well towns are referred to as communities being more spread out and cities are more compact.

    I think in the California charter, an incorporated community can rather take on the name of "city of' or "town of". I heard it varies state by state, but I wish we had a national definition of what a city or town is. Then for an un-incorporated community there is no name.
    Compactness or lack of it isn't the real issue. Incorporated places, whether called cities, villages or town, tend to have higher populations in smaller areas, so they are denser, but that density is all relative to where the community is located and/or when and how it was established. Cheyene, WY is just as much a city as New York, NY.

    I don't think there are any states that don't have county (parish in LA) divisions, but I may be wrong as states vary in size. After that, it's a mixed bag. Traditionally, the South has basically counties and "towns" (ie, villages, hamlets,etc) plus cities. In any of the areas originally part of territory governed by the Northwest Ordinance (essentially, Ohio through Minnesota) there's the county/township structure with "towns" (ie, villages, hamlets,etc) plus cities overlaying that. I think that pattern may have also continued into the Midwest and Great Plains but I'm not sure. Areas like New Mexico and California may have different structures because they come from a different tradtion (ie, Spanish rather than British).

    Places developed in the colonial era may be different from areas developed in the 19th century, and both are different from places developed after the emergence of the automobile in the 1920s. Adding to these differences is the fundamental economy of an area. A century or more of predominantly large-scale staple-crop agriculture produces different land use patterns and density than a century or more of an economy based on small-scale mixed agriculture and manufacturing.

    We live in a diverse country, not just in terms of people, but also in terms of just about everything else about us. If there's one thing the US is noted for, it's that "one size doesn't fit all". That's still true today.

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