[Talk-us] Differences with USA admin_level tagging

Kevin Kenny kevin.b.kenny+osm at gmail.com
Sun Jul 9 03:18:24 UTC 2017

I've already had a fairly lengthy conversation, some time ago, with
stevea about the situation in New York, and I think we have a
reasonable understanding.

Like the New England states, New York is divided into mutually
exclusive counties, which are in turn divided into mutually exclusive

A notable exception is that the City of New York encompasses five
counties (New York, Bronx, Richmond, Kings, Queens) which are usually
identified as 'boroughs' (Confusingly enough, New York County is the
Borough of Manhattan, Richmond County is the Borough of Staten Island,
and Kings County is the Borough of Brooklyn.) The city has a unique
admin_level. The boroughs are less independent than counties, since
the legislative functions were merged into a single city council. The
boroughs retain some vestiges of having their own executive branches
(the Borough President, the chief executive of each borough, is
largely, though a ceremonial post nowadays) and each borough has its
own judiciary.

Each borough is divided into community districts.

The default municipality elsewhere is a town. This is what you get
when you don't incorporate. Towns do not cross county lines. They are
similar to townships in other states. Every resident in New York State
resides in a town, a city, or on a Native American reservation.

Incorporated communities include cities and villages. None of these
cross county lines, except for the sui generis City of New York, and
the City of Geneva, which is primarily in Ontario County but has
annexed some land in the adjoining Seneca County.

Cities are independent from the towns that spatially contain them.
They operate entirely independently of the town, and generally have
their own charters (constitutions). (Exception: The city of Sherrill
has surrendered most of its independence and is treated as a village
in the Town of Vernon.)

Villages have more limited home rule. A handful are chartered, while
most are governed by a uniform statewide Village Law. About 85% of
them fall within a single town, while the remaining 15% are divided
among two or more towns, which may or may not be in the same county.
In all cases, the residents of a village are residents both of the
village and of some town, and owe taxes to both.

Below towns are also encountered hamlets. These have no independent
existence or home rule at all. Their borders in some towns are fluid,
with a cluster of houses or neighborhood being identified by a name.
In other towns, the hamlets are coincident with planning districts or
have special zoning, and are signed at their borders. Certainly, the
towns that promulgate zoning regulations, parking regulations,
planning policies, and so on by named hamlet deserve to have their
hamlets' borders marked on the map, even if the hamlets have no home

Some hamlets are quite major places indeed. Brentwood has roughly
62000 inhabitants, and Levittown, 52000. Both would be Cities if they
were to incorporate. Instead, Levittown is a hamlet of the Town of
Hempstead (at 760000 inhabitants, New York's largest), and Brentwood
of the Town of Islip.

So to me, what makes sense for New York:

admin level 2 - United States of America
admin level 4 - New York State
admin level 5 - New York City, special case
admin level 6 - County, Borough (within New York City)
admin level 7 - Town, City
admin level 8 - Vlllage, hamlet (where borders defined), community
district (New York City), City of Sherrill

admin level controversial - Native American reservation; the official
status of the First Nations as 'dependent nations' does not map well
to OSM's admin_level structure.

This scheme differs from what I see on the Wiki only in that the
sixty-odd cities other than New York and Sherrill would be promoted
from level 8 to level 7.

New York also has a great many special-purpose units of government -
school districts, supervisory school districts, fire districts and the
subtly different fire protection districts, consolidated health
districts, library districts, public benefit corporations, and
parking, parks, police, sanitation, sewer and water districts in areas
that have those services at a local level. None of these are
constrained to follow any sort of county or municipal boundaries, and
they are organized for the convenience of the agencies that provide
the corresponding services. In most cases, they are not observable 'on
the ground' (they exist only on paper maps and descriptions of
boundaries, but are not signed or otherwise indicated separately), and
they probably need not be mapped in OSM.

There are some weird cases of towns that are too sparsely populated to
support a functioning civil government. If memory serves, the town
government of Arietta, for instance, consists of a supervisor, two
council members, and a town justice, all of which are part-time
positions, and the paid employees are a part-time prosecutor and a
highway crew. (The town has just over three hundred souls - fewer than
one person per square mile.) Several of these towns are located within
the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and depend on the Department of
Envirionmental Conservation for many of the services that would
ordinarily be provided by a town government.

On Sat, Jul 8, 2017 at 9:56 PM, Greg Troxel <gdt at lexort.com> wrote:
> In many new england states you list Town as 7 and City as 8.  As a
> local, this makes no sense to me.   We have to keep separate what OSM
> means by words and what various places mean; often they are different.
> It's when they are close but not quite that it's extra hard!
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