Administrative level of townships in Maine

I suggest taking Wikipedia’s locator maps with a grain of Maine sea salt. There are multiple sets of these locator maps; Wikipedia just uses whichever ones someone has volunteered to create, sometimes preferring a prettier one over a more accurate one. For example, all the infobox maps in Hamilton County, Ohio, treat CDPs as municipalities and ignore townships, even though a different set depicts the townships accurately.

I also don’t think it’s incredibly problematic that we choose to show boundaries that Wikipedia’s locator maps omit. Google Maps doesn’t show county boundaries in any state, but I think we all agree that they should be tagged as administrative boundaries.

That said, I’m out of my league when it comes to the various flavors of boundary in Maine, and I may be reading too much into the initial choice to classify township boundaries as administrative.

It seems clear that townships all arose from a survey and thus have legal force, but that alone doesn’t make an administrative boundary. What seems to have happened in Maine is that the same townships (with exceptions due to former incorporations?) wound up being used as a point of reference for county services too, in the same manner that a city might have well-defined neighborhood boundaries. Thus the names haphazardly attached to the township and range numbers.

The Census Bureau actually ignores the townships altogether. They consider the towns and plantations to be the minor civil divisions (MCDs), not the townships, and have designated the unorganized territories because the towns and plantations don’t cover the counties entirely. Wikipedia describes each unorganized territory according to the townships it covers, but this is just an inference and what Wikipedians might deride as “original research”.

If folks in Maine have no particular attachment to the classification of townships as administrative subdivisions, then we could fall back to the more basic purpose of these boundaries as survey boundaries, which have been tagged boundary=legal or boundary=cadastral in some other countries. But in the rest of the U.S., we’ve steadfastly refrained from mapping PLSS townships and sections, considering them to be out of scope for the project.

Again in my cheerleader role, really nice work / progress everybody! We still may not have 100% perfect and accurate understanding, but I feel a lot closer to that with the last couple of posts here.

BTW, “because reasons” (for gores) was the inherent inaccuracy of 18th- and 19th-century survey technology — they were using sextants and binoculars, not satellites and bits. Analogously, OSM (-US, especially us here, now) might consider the journey to better map (and better understand as we do so!) as a similar stumble- and mistake-ridden path to eventually having accurate data in our database: We continue that journey to get there.

We also have gores in Vermont (Buels Gore for example). Along with unorganized towns (Glastenbury for example), gores have no local government and their affairs are handled by a state appointed supervisor. Despite being lesser in some way than incorporated towns and cities, unorganized towns and gores fill the same role. They are the most local administrative subdivision for a certain piece of land in the state. So admin_level=8 makes sense. Adding border_type=gore or border_type=unorganized_town probably also makes sense.

The sense I get about Maine is that the townships (aka unorganized townships) are equivalent to Vermont’s unorganized towns. Their legal status seems to be the same regardless of how they are named. It also seems that gores have very similar legal status as unorganized administrative areas, just as in Vermont. Plantations seem to be a bit different. Maine Encyclopedia says:

The plantation is the simplest form of local government in Maine. It usually consists of three assessors, who also function as a select board, with few if any other officials.

So they have an organized local government, but much simpler than a town government would be due to the extremely low population.

It seems to me that admin_level=8 is appropriate for all of these designations since none of them contain any of the others and the next highest level of administrative containment is the county at admin_level=6. Specifying (unorganized) township, gore, or plantation with border_type= also seems appropriate.


As an aside, there’s at least one gore in Ohio, making up the northeastern portion of Hocking County’s Falls Township, after it waffled about which township it wanted to be part of. Unlike in Vermont and Maine, “Falls Gore” is a purely geographic moniker that lent its name to some villages and cemeteries. In other cases where such discrepancies arose, an effort was made to ensure contiguous township boundaries or establish a separate miniature township out of the gore. Tiny Lake County went as far as to declare portions of Lake Erie as township land in order to meet the minimum size of a township. These days, plenty of townships have discontiguous sections due to annexations, but while people sometimes describe them as “islands”, the term “gore” has fallen out of use.

I wholeheartedly welcome (now, and I always have!) additions and changes to that page! Both spatial containment and equivalence are each important enough topics they deserve their own section, in my opinion.

I take it the table and any footnotes required (use them liberally, obviously) will have its Maine row updated. I’d like to see it explicitly say somewhere there “these are unincorporated in Maine” or “township (unincorporated).” And maybe the border_type tags that “loosely associate” with certain values (like city at 8) “mentally uncouple” a bit because of this real-world instance.

The world is a messy place, we dance as fast as we can. We’re fine. It’s neat to see the gears turn.

Having done the previous Maine admin boundaries, I wish you’d slow down and give me a chance to review before things change. I believe Townships and Gores (and plantations etc) are legally similar, it’s all just state-controlled land. For consistency, the change you made should have included the gores etc, everything that was admin_level 9, including the islands, except reservations (I don’t want to start talking about reservations, please). I believe things are in an inconsistent state as they stand, which I was hoping to avoid. There should be no admin_level=9 left in Maine. It was something I invented for Townships.

But, I worry they will disappear from the map. If you’re in this area, or have zoomed in here for some reason, township boundaries are absolutely what you’re expecting to see.

I’m also worried it would affect vehicle navigation (my primary concern for OSM). OsmAnd seems to prefer admin boundaries OVER addr:city. I did some experimenting and small changes (changing Gorham’s label node to “place=municipality”) completely broke navigation to all addresses in that town. These township names are used for mailing address, driving address, and the common answer for “where are you from”. They are important and definitely worth mapping.

I just noticed that you left out the townships that hadn’t been given nicknames (Example: Relation: ‪T13 R11 WELS‬ (‪12253571‬) | OpenStreetMap), so you got, like, half of it? Could you please revert change 145578282 until we decide on what needs to be changed and how.

Like I said, things can get messy, because they are (in the real world, and in OSM right now…I did take a look with OT recently and simply toggling between 8 and 9 on the query above leaves me confused). I still think we’re fine, as I’m certain we can “fix” things as @blackboxlogic guides us. Hold off on updating wiki, but let’s discuss how to fix the map data now, then we can fix it. Brian acting as typist is working (or at least it can work), he simply needs to type the correct things, which are tbd right now.

I’m not sure these are boundary=administrative (either), but they might be. If not, no admin_level=* tag is necessary, but we do want to get the correct boundary=* tag and possibly border_type=* tag on these. Hm…border_type=unincorporated_township? (And document “only in Maine”?)

And here, we see the importance of “what renders is important.” Carto renders admin_level=* with distinct lines (thick, thin, solid, dashed, dotted…) while border_type=* …not so much. I do not ignore @blackboxlogic 's concerns these will “disappear,” as they will not from OSM (especially as they are tagged border_type=township, what might end up happening) but they will disappear from Carto if they do not have an admin_level=* tag. However, if they don’t deserve one because “these are not administrative boundaries” then that’s simply how it is in OSM. We might make an exception, and if we do I hope it becomes very well documented we are doing this, we might not make an exception. It seems to me there are exceptions and “bending of rules” elsewhere (Alaska, other places). Though, we really do strive for consistency.

Again, this ain’t easy.

Unfortunately that changeset also includes hours of subsequent work in adding wikidata tags (the real reason I’m working on Maine right now) to these boundaries – an unfortunate accident because somehow I had JOSM configured like this:


But yes, the intent was to re-tag a subset of the township boundaries that we seemed to have no objection to making admin_level=8 + border_type=township. I would have done them all were it not for some of @Minh_Nguyen’s more cryptic (to me) notes about survey townships and PLSS which I don’t think have quite been adequately explained. I’m not sure if there’s an objection there or just background information. And so I held off on the rest of the boundaries pending that resolution and also whether the gores and plantations should have distinct values of border_type (presently all are =township).

If we really want to re-tag all the border_type=township back to admin_level=9, of course it would be a simple mechanical edit to do that, but it feels like a step backwards.

I’m open to that (tertiarily), I’m also opposed to that (secondarily), as I’d like to hear @blackboxlogic articulate “what is what” (primarily). Please be as clear as you can, even going to verbose if necessary.

It may very well be that we keep border_type=township tags (where appropriate) as we remove admin_level=* tags (of any value), again, where appropriate.

I would like to strive for consistency in cases where there is truly equivalence. I.e., “we should tag X this way because in this exact situation in another place, this is how we handled it”.

If something is truly unique (no equivalent examples to compare to), then I think it’s fine to invent the answer that feels like the best fit considering the context of how we solved similar (but not identical) situations.

That is why I’m particularly interested in Zeke’s Vermont example, and any potential PLSS examples that might inform our approach.

I note with interest the process in Maine for a township organizing itself (in that case, changing from “unorganized” to “plantation”). It seems that the residents of a township can simply vote themselves into and out of plantation and/or town status (heavily glossing over the details) without the boundaries changing shape. For me, that’s enough legal structure to say that these boundaries are how Maine divides itself into administrative units at the most local (municipality-equivalent) level. Basically, “we can dial our goverment up or down”. The fact that some of the governments are dialed all the way down, or the fact that some of the townships don’t meet the minimum population requirement to dial it up, do not – for me – negate a township’s sense of place or administrative quality.

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And if we say that an unincorporated (but “now organized”) township, which rises with that linked legal process (Maine’s Title 30-A, §7001, describing a process where “over 200 people, 3 assessors, a treasurer…”) to form from an unincorporated and unorganized “something” to organized (but remaining unincorporated) something “gets tagged admin_level=8 in Maine” (even as very often, it is cities which are 8, that doesn’t matter in Maine). And these things (unincorporated yet organized) are called “plantations” or “organized plantations” in Maine.

Sure, that’s different than many (most? all other, I think) states, where an admin_level=8 tag implies but does not necessarily require incorporation, but that’s OK. If we’re clear, things are articulated, we document things well, we can “tag accordingly.” In Maine, these might get admin_level=8. It’s unusual from the perspective of many other states, but so is how other states see other states, so this isn’t so completely unusual OSM can’t handle it with appropriate tagging.

Whew! (And it’s after midnight in Eastern Standard Time).

Let’s hear more from @blackboxlogic and @ezekielf about Vermont.

Edit: For those screaming in agony “WHY, oh, WHY?!” and tearing out their hair, I think it’s really the simplicity and wisdom of the 10th amendment: how states (govern…) themselves is up to the states.

For Maine only, how about these?

Unincorporated, unorganized township: border_type=township
Unincorporated, organized township: border_type=plantation (or organized_plantation), admin_level=8, boundary=administrative
Incorporated, organized township: is there such a thing? How would we tag it if so?

“Remaining” (heh) as they are:
City (always incorporated and organized): border_type=city, admin_level=8, boundary=administrative
Village (in a township): border_type=village, admin_level=9, boundary=administrative
(amidst others).

This (Village remaining as is at 9, while it correctly subordinates to a township, whether organized or not, at 8) preserves the relation of subordination in our admin_level=* hierarchy.

Or, (to really distinguish between cities at 8), townships and plantations become 9 (or 5?) and villages become 10 (or 7?). Just spitballin’, that. I mean, the US has a few islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only a few dozen people on them, and they get admin_level=2, because reasons. These reasons are both real and perfectly explainable (and we do, in our wiki).

Sure, in my opinion, this would be enough to tip the scales in favor of boundary=administrative. This expectation takes the townships beyond a mere “service area” or “special district” that coincidentally lines up with a survey boundary.

If this is OsmAnd’s actual behavior, it’s very broken and we should be careful about making data modeling decisions based on it. addr:city must matter more than boundary containment when geocoding an address. This nuance applies all across the U.S., due to how our postal system is structured, but this discussion makes it sound like they’ve intentionally discarded addr:city to economize on space.

It’s more like I’m not the authority on Maine places. I’m mostly just thinking aloud in this thread and sharing what I find out as I dig into it.

Maine didn’t use the PLSS, but the surveys in Maine also designated townships. My understanding is that Maine counties have made (civil) townships out of these (survey) townships, making them less abstract than the survey townships in a PLSS state, but not quite as real as the civil townships in one of those states. That shouldn’t be a blocker for recognizing Maine’s (civil) townships as administrative boundaries.

As to the various categories of township that you listed, I think these are just naming conventions that don’t have any rhyme or reason behind them. I would put more stock in @blackboxlogic’s preference for consistently modeling all the boundaries today recognized by the state as townships.

Me, too. The excellent dialog continues. I would encourage everyone to be inspired by Minh’s approach here (I am now, have been and usually am). Think aloud, share your insights, concerns, research, knowledge, inclinations, tidbits about how other products might or don’t help navigate, etc. etc.

Speaking for myself, I’ve learned a lot here, I think others have, too, while OSM gets better tagging and smarter map data in general. Win, win, win, win.

A bit off-topic, Happy Holidays, with this entry from our admin_level=4 entry in USA’s row:

USA admin_level=4

(To the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas, the second line of which is “Five Golden Rings”):

“At the fourth admin level, the USA gives us:
3 Territories,
2 Commonwealths
and the District of Col-um-bi-a-ah.”

(* I’m using the terms “organized” and “unorganized” since these are heavily used in both Vermont and Maine law. As far as I can tell, they have very similar meanings to “incorporated” and “unincorporated” but there may be some slight distinction that is not yet clear to me.)

In Vermont, every bit of land is contained within one (and only one) city, town, unorganized town, or gore. These are all tagged boundary=administrative + admin_level=8. This is correct and appropriate because these are all official administrative units recognized by the State of Vermont, regardless of whether the unit is organized (town or city) or unorganized (gore or unorganized town). border_type tags are not widespread yet, but would be a good addition to distinguish between these four types of level 8 administrative units. This will give us the following tagging:

Admin Unit OSM Tags
City boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=city
Town boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=town
Unorganized Town boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=unorganized_town
Gore boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=gore

It looks to me like Maine is divided up similarly to Vermont with two major differences. First, Maine has a massive number of (unorganized) townships while Vermont has just 5 unorganized towns. Other than the quantity difference, these administrative units seem functionally equivalent. Second, Maine has a fifth type of administrative area called a plantation that is more organized than a township, but less than a town. I suggest the following tagging for Maine:

Admin Unit OSM Tags
City boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=city
Town boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=town
Plantation boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=plantation
Township (unorganized) boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=township*
Gore boundary=administrative, admin_level=8, border_type=gore

Alternatively, it could make sense to use border_type=unorganized_township. Although this may seem redundant to Maine residents, it would distinguish Maine’s townships as unorganized entities from townships in other states that are organized/incorporated municipalities. How does the above tagging seem to you @blackboxlogic?

It looks like all the unorganized areas of Maine are administered by the Land Use Planning Commission. Chapter 3 of their Comprehensive Land Use Plan states:

The jurisdiction’s boundaries are not static. Since its creation in 1971, more than two dozen townships, plantations, and towns have moved out of or into the Commission’s jurisdiction through the processes of organization or deorganization. Since 1971, four minor civil divisions have been added to the jurisdiction through deorganization and ten minor civil divisions have gained local control. In addition, portions of several unorganized territories were annexed by adjacent towns (Table 3). This ebb and flow of the jurisdiction’s boundaries is likely to continue in the future.

In other words, @Zelonewolf is spot on here:


Thanks, Zeke, that’s pretty comprehensive (and awesome!)

I am certain there is a distinction between “organized” and “incorporated.” These are distinct, though I agree it can be subtle. For example, there are states (and the federal government) which have codified in statutes various “Organic Acts” (which establish particular governments with particular forms); witness the above-linked Maine law to create an organized township (called a “plantation” in Maine) from an unorganized one.

Somebody might (disparagingly) call what I’m about to type “original research,” though I believe it to be true and is my understanding, even as I Am Not A Lawyer. When a “municipality” (those are air quotes) incorporates, it becomes “a body corporate,” much like a corporation (a legal “body,” corpus, Latin): a “municipal version” of a corporation, allowing it to issue bonds, assume civil liability for torts, and so on. This is an additional step “beyond” the different act of “organizing” as a government, and so is distinct and unique from it.

For example, Palmyra Atoll (a US territory in the Pacific Ocean) is US’ only incorporated unorganized territory — yes, it is possible to be unorganized yet incorporated!

Hearing from @blackboxlogic will continue to guide us to excellent tagging in Maine (we’re not done yet, but we certainly are much closer). Thanks to everyone for excellent inputs and continuing efforts!

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I’d suggest not worrying too much about this ambiguity. The words “town” and “township” mean such different things from state to state, let alone from country to country. In some states, “town” is a synonym for “city”; in others, a “city” can be a legal fiction with zero residents. border_type needs to be interpreted contextually because we’ve never bothered to namespace it by country and state.