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In law, an unincorporated area is a region of land that is not a part of any municipality. To "incorporate" in this context means to form a municipal corporation, a city or town with its own government. Thus, an unincorporated community is usually not subject to or taxed by a municipal government. Such regions are generally administered by default as a part of larger administrative divisions, such as a township, borough, county, state, province, canton, parish, or country. Occasionally small towns disincorporate, such as when they become fiscally insolvent, and services become the responsibility of a higher administration. An example is Cabazon, Californiamarker, which disincorporated in 1972.


In Australia the unincorporated areas are places outside municipal council boundaries, usually in remote areas. Some are of vast area but tiny population. Until 30 June 2008, there were large unincorporated areas in the Northern Territorymarker with over 9000 km of roads in those areas., with 92 percent of the territory area and 16.5 percent of its population. With the reform of local government on 1 July 2008, these shares dropped to 1.45 percent of the area and 4.0 percent of the population. The remaining unincorporated areas in the Northern Territory are the Unincorporated Top End Region (Finniss-Mary, the largest), the Darwin Rates Act Area (East Arm), Nhulunbuymarker, Alyangula in the northern region, and Yularamarker in the southern region.

60 percent of the area South Australiamarker is in the unincorporated Outback Areas Community Development Trust. The far west and north of New South Walesmarker is called the Unincorporated Far West Region, which is sparsely populated and barely warrants an elected council. However a civil servant in the state capital manages such matters as are necessary. The second unincorporated area of this state is Lord Howe Islandmarker.

The only other state to have unincorporated areas is Victoriamarker, which has two small unincorporated areas in Alpine Shiremarker, and one in Shire of Mansfield (all of which are ski resorts), as well as some small off shore islands. The complete list is:
  1. Elizabeth Islandmarker
  2. Falls Creek Alpine Resortmarker
  3. French Island
  4. Gabo Islandmarker
  5. Lady Julia Percy Islandmarker
  6. Lake Mountain Alpine Resortmarker
  7. Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resortmarker
  8. Mount Buller Alpine Resortmarker
  9. Mount Hotham Alpine Resortmarker
  10. Mount Stirling Alpine Resortmarker
  11. Yallourn Works Areamarker


In Canadamarker, depending on the province, an unincorporated settlement is one that has no town council. It is usually, but not always, part of a larger municipal government. This can range from small hamlets to larger urbanized areas. For example, Sherwood Parkmarker, a suburb of Edmontonmarker, would be the seventh largest city in Albertamarker if it were incorporated, but remains simply a part of the Specialized Municipality of Strathcona Countymarker. Likewise, the oil sands boomtown of Fort McMurraymarker is not a separate community but part of the massive Wood Buffalo Regional Municipalitymarker.

Unincorporated settlements with a population of between 100 and 1,000 residents may have the status of designated place in Canadian census data.

Some unincorporated settlements which are not part of a larger municipality—particularly those in very remote areas—may have some types of municipal services provided to them by a quasi-governmental agency such as a local services board.


Since Germany has no administrative level comparable to the townships of other countries, the vast majority of the country is organized in municipalities, often consisting of multiple settlements which are not considered to be unincorporated. Because these settlements lack a council of their own, there is usually an Ortsvorsteher (village president) appointed by the larger municipality, except in the very smallest villages.
, Germanymarker had 248 uninhabited unincorporated areas (of which 214 are located in Bavariamarker), called gemeindefreie Gebiete or singular gemeindefreies Gebiet, not belonging to any municipality, consisting mostly of forested areas.
There are also three inhabited unincorporated areas, all of which serve as military proving grounds: Osterheidemarker and Lohheidemarker in Lower Saxonymarker, and Gutsbezirk Münsingen in Baden-Württembergmarker. They have fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in total.

United States

In United Statesmarker local government, an unincorporated area generally refers to the part of a county which is outside of any municipality. Most American states have granted some form of home rule, so that county commissions have the same powers in these areas as city councils or town councils have in their respective incorporated areas. Some states instead put these powers in the hands of townships, which are minor civil divisions of each county, and are called "towns" in some states. Some American states have no unincorporated land areas; these include New Jerseymarker, Connecticutmarker, and Rhode Islandmarker although these states all have communities that are not separately incorporated but are part of a larger municipality.

An unincorporated community is one general term for a geographic area having a common social identity without benefit of municipal organization or official political designation (i.e. incorporation as a city or town). There are two main types of unincorporated communities:

  • a neighborhood or other community existing within one or across multiple existing incorporated areas (i.e., cities or towns). In this sense, a community is part of a municipal government, but not separately incorporated from it. For example, Hyannis, Massachusettsmarker is an unincorporated village within the town of Barnstablemarker.

  • a neighborhood or other community existing outside of an incorporated municipal government. In this sense, the community is outside of any municipal government, and entirely unincorporated. Some, like Nutbush, Tennesseemarker, or Perry Park, Kentuckymarker are small rural settlements of low population. Others, like Springfield, Virginiamarker are densely populated, urbanized areas that have never been incorporated despite dense populations.

Due to differences in state laws regarding the incorporation of communities, there is a great variation in the distribution and nature of unincorporated areas. Unincorporated regions are essentially non-existent in the six New Englandmarker states and New Jerseymarker due to the weak or nonexistent county government system. Nearly all of the land in New England (and all of the land in New Jersey) is part of an incorporated area of some type. In these "home rule" areas, types (and official names) of local government entities can vary. New England has historically preferred more direct forms of government, such as the open town meeting or representative town meeting. In New Jersey, multiple types exist as well, such as the City, Township, Town, Borough or Village, but these differences are in the structure of the legislative branches, NOT in the powers or functions of the entities themselves.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Virginiamarker "strong county" model. Virginia and other states with this model such as Alabamamarker, Marylandmarker, and Tennesseemarker set strict requirements on incorporation or grant counties and townships broad powers that in other states are carried out by cities, creating a disincentive to incorporate, and thus have large, urbanized areas which have no municipal government below the county or township level.

Meanwhile, in other mid-Atlantic states such as New Yorkmarker and Pennsylvaniamarker, a "hybrid" model that tries to "balance" the two approaches is prevalent, with differing allocations of power between municipalities and counties exists.

Throughout the United States of America, some large cities have annexed all surrounding unincorporated areas, creating what are known as consolidated city-county forms of government (e.g., Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker). In areas of sparse population the majority of the land in any given state may be unincorporated.

Some states, including North Carolinamarker and others, grant extraterritorial jurisdiction to cities and towns (but rarely villages), so that they may control zoning for a limited distance into adjacent unincorporated areas, often as a precursor (and sometimes as a legal requirement) to later annexation of those areas. This is especially useful in rural counties which have no zoning at all, or only spot zoning for unincorporated communities.

In Californiamarker, all counties except San Francisco Countymarker have unincorporated areas. Even in highly populated counties, the unincorporated portions may contain a large number of inhabitants. In Los Angeles County, the county government estimates the population of its unincorporated areas to exceed one million people. Despite having 88 incorporated cities and towns, including the state's most populous, 65% of the land in Los Angeles County is unincorporated, this mostly consisting of Angeles National Forestmarker and sparsely populated regions to its north.

In the context of the United States insular areamarker, the word "unincorporated" means that the territory has not been formally and irrevocably incorporated into the United States. (See: incorporated territory.) Unincorporated insular areas are therefore potentially subject to being sold or otherwise transferred to another power, or, conversely, being granted independence. However, neither fate seems likely to occur in the foreseeable future to the five remaining major unincorporated U.S. insular areas, American Samoamarker, Puerto Rico, Guammarker, the U.S.marker Virgin Islandsmarker, or the Northern Mariana Islandsmarker.

Mail delivery

Many unincorporated communities are also recognized as acceptable place names for use in mailing addresses by the United States Postal Service (indeed, some have their own post offices), and the United States Census Bureau designates some unincorporated communities as census-designated places and tabulates census data for them.

However, the USPS is very conservative about recognizing new place names for use in mailing addresses, and typically only does so when a place incorporates. The original place name associated with a ZIP code is still maintained as the "default" place name, even though the name of the newly-incorporated place is more accurate. As an example, Sandy Springsmarker is one of the most populated places in Georgiamarker, but is served by a branch of the Atlantamarker post office. Only after the city was incorporated in 2005 has "Sandy Springs" been approved by the USPS for use in mailing addresses, though "Atlantamarker" remains the default name. Accordingly, "Atlanta" is the only accepted place name for mailing addresses in the nearby unincorporated town of Viningsmarker, also served by a branch of the Atlanta post office, even though Atlanta is in a different county. In contrast, neighboring Mabletonmarker has not been incorporated in nearly a century, but has its own post office and thus "Mableton" is the only acceptable place name for mailing addresses in the town.

If an unincorporated area becomes incorporated, it may be split among ZIP codes, and its new name may be recognized as "acceptable" for use with some or all of them in mailing addresses, as has been the case in Johns Creekmarker and Milton, Georgiamarker. However, if an incorporated area disincorporates, this has no effect on whether a place name is "acceptable" in a mailing address or not, as is the case with Lithia Springsmarker. ZIP code boundaries often ignore political boundaries, so the appearance of a place name in a mailing address alone does not indicate whether the place is incorporated or unincorporated.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has had regular periods with unincorporated land when newly reclaimed land polders fall dry. Unincorporated land is since medieval times administered by an appointed officer with the name Landdrost or Drossaart. Also, Eltenmarker and Tudderen, both annexed from Germany after World War II, were governed by a Landdrost until they were ceded to Germany in 1963.

The last period with unincorporated land started in 1967 when the dyke around Southern Flevoland was closed. It however requires several years before the polder is genuinely accessible for cultivation and construction of roads and homes can start, as in the first years the soil is equivalent to quick sand. During the initial period of inhabitation a special, government appointed officer is installed, who is called Landdrost. During the administrative office of a Landdrost there is no municipal council.

In 1975 the first homes in what is now the city of Almeremarker were built and from 1976 till 1984 the area was governed by the Landdrost as the executive of the Openbaar Lichaam Zuidelijk Flevoland. In 1984 the Landdrost became the first mayor of the new city Almere. Since that date the Netherlands does not have any unincorporated areas.

Countries without unincorporated places

Many countries, especially those with many centuries of history using multiple tiers of local government, do not use the concept of an unincorporated place.

  • In the United Kingdommarker the whole of the country, rural and urban, has been covered by a two or three-tier system of local government for many centuries (although many of the larger conurbations now have single tier or unitary local governments).

  • In South Africa the latest constitution gave every place in the country democratically elected third-tier government.

  • In Brazilmarker and Mexicomarker, all land must belong to a municipality. Even large uninhabited areas, such as forests or grasslands, are by law part of the nearest "city". This is because in Latin America, a "municipality" is the equivalent of what in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker is called a "County".

See also


  1. The History of County Government Part I. National Association of Counties. Accessed 17 July 2009.
  2. County Government. Illinois Association of County Board Members. Accessed 17 July 2009.
  3. Los Angeles County website
  4. Los Angeles County website
  5. Denmark in fact has one unincorporated area, the former naval fortress Ertholmene with less than 100 inhabitants, which is still governed directly by the Ministry of Defence.
  6. Switzerland also has a few exceptions as described by the Swiss federal statistical office(see page 5: Gemeindefreie Spezialgebiete in here)

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