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Geographic Terms and Concepts - Place

Incorporated Places are those reported to the Census Bureau as legally in existence as of January 1, 2010, as reported in the latest Boundary and Annexation Survey (BAS), under the laws of their respective states.   An incorporated place is established to provide governmental functions for a concentration of people as opposed to a minor civil division, which generally is created to provide services or administer an area without regard, necessarily, to population.   Places always are within a single state or equivalent entity, but may extend across county and county subdivision boundaries.   An incorporated place usually is a city, town, village, or borough, but can have other legal descriptions.   For Census Bureau data tabulation and presentation purposes, incorporated places exclude:

  • Boroughs in Alaska (treated as statistical equivalents of counties).
  • Towns in the New England states, New York, and Wisconsin (treated as MCDs).
  • Boroughs in New York (treated as MCDs).

Census Designated Places (CDPs) are the statistical counterparts of incorporated places, and are delineated to provide data for settled concentrations of population that are identifiable by name but are not legally incorporated under the laws of the state in which they are located.   The boundaries usually are defined in cooperation with local or tribal officials and generally updated prior to each decennial census.   These boundaries, which usually coincide with visible features or the boundary of an adjacent incorporated place or another legal entity boundary, have no legal status, nor do these places have officials elected to serve traditional municipal functions.   CDP boundaries may change from one decennial census to the next with changes in the settlement pattern; a CDP with the same name as in an earlier census does not necessarily have the same boundary.   CDPs must be contained within a single state and may not extend into an incorporated place.   There are no population size requirements for CDPs.

Hawaii is the only state that has no incorporated places recognized by the Census Bureau.   All places shown in decennial census data products for Hawaii are CDPs.   By agreement with the state of Hawaii, the Census Bureau does not show data separately for the city of Honolulu, which is coextensive with Honolulu County.   In Puerto Rico, which also does not have incorporated places, the Census Bureau recognizes only CDPs and refers to them as comunidades or zonas urbanas.   Guam also has only CDPs.  

Place Codes are of two types.   The five-digit Federal Information Processing Series (FIPS) place code is assigned based on alphabetical sequence within a state.   If place names are duplicated within a state and they represent distinctly different areas, a separate code is assigned to each place name alphabetically by the primary county in which each place is located, or if both places are in the same county, they are assigned alphabetically by their legal descriptions (for example, "city" before "village").   Places also are assigned an eight-digit National Standard (ANSI) code.

Dependent and Independent Places refers to the relationship of places to the county subdivisions.   Depending on the state, incorporated places are either dependent within, or independent of, county subdivisions, or there is a mixture of dependent and independent places in the state and in a county.   Dependent places are part of the county subdivision; the county subdivision code of the place is the same as that of the underlying county subdivision(s) but is different from the place code.   Independent places are not part of any minor civil division (MCD) and serve as primary county subdivisions.   The independent place FIPS code usually is the same as that used for the MCD for the place.   The only exception is if the place is independent of the MCDs in a state (Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Virginia) in which the FIPS MCD codes are in the 90000 range.   Then, the FIPS MCD and FIPS place codes will differ.   CDPs always are dependent within county subdivisions and all places are dependent within statistical county subdivisions.

Consolidated City (Balance) Portions refer to the areas of a consolidated city not included in another separately incorporated place.   For example, Butte-Silver Bow, MT, is a consolidated city (former Butte city and Silver Bow County) that includes the separately incorporated municipality of Walkerville city.   The area of the consolidated city that is not in Walkerville city is assigned to Butte-Silver Bow (balance).   The name of the area of a consolidated city not specifically within a separately incorporated place always includes the "(balance)" identifier.   Balance portions of consolidated cities are included with other places in Census Bureau products.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Geography | (301) 763-1128 |  Last Revised: December 06, 2012