(re)define the residential tag list

I would like to start a discussion about the values of residential=*. I started to document some of the most used but I noticed that most values are not used correctly, mainly due to the fact that the list of values is never officially documented (I also posted this on the wiki talk page where it was last discussed in 2011).

Some things I noticed:

  • Most misused seems to be residential=urban. The wiki defines this as highrise but you can see this tag being used for urban in general, including areas of small apartments and single family housing.
  • residential=terrace also seems to be used for rows of single family houses and small apartments.
  • That residential=* is used as subkey for building=* while there is building_type=*

Would it be an idea to have the following main values?

  • apartments: For apartment buildings (low and highrise) and deprecated urban. The urban tag is to general and overlaps a lot with apartments
  • single_family: for detached, single family houses (deprecate detached)
  • terraced/terrace: terrace was the most used so I used and documented that but maybe terraced is better.
  • duplex: for 2 attached houses.
  • lots of smaller one but the above seem to be the most common to me.
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Residential areas also aren’t always homogenous. There probably should be some values for areas that contain a mix of different housing types. Not sure if distinct values or semi-colon separated values like duplex;single_family would be best.

The 2011 proposal on the talk page also suggested semi-colon seperated lists. The downside of residential=mixed is the that you need another subkey to define mixed. Otherwise mixed has no value.

I would not be against semi-colon lists.

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that is more problem of a bad definition doomed to a failure, in extremely predictable way

I would just describe urban as urban

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What is urban in your definition then? Building height makes it testable.

For example this is urban but without highrises (with minor exceptions)

But why not tag this as residential=apartments? The current wiki for apartments also says residential=urban is implied with by using residential=apartments.

Or you would have to say residential=apartments = buidlings <=5 floors and residential=urban = > 5 floors.

You have to make is measurable.

That would be also fine - I just wanted to express that trying to define =urban to “only highrise, not urban” was never going to work.


according to the German building code (and likely others), there are indeed many highrise buildings in this area, as a typical definition is last floor at least 21m above ground (related to local length of fire brigade ladders).

Personally, I would not consider „urban“ a useful value as a residential landuse subtype. “highrise” on the other hand, seems useful, although it is something you can see from the actual numbers of floors (if tagged)

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Why not use separate landuse areas here?

I don’t want to sound rude or disrespectful, but this is the first time, I’ve even seen that you can narrow down landuse=residential and I fail to see the use of it. To determine, if there are only semi-detached houses, or only detached houses, or terraced or a mix of them, we could just check the data of the buildings inside the landuse. Apart from residential=trailer_park, all the information should be deducible from the buildings
Is the idea to use this for areas where we haven’t mapped individual houses yet, or is this really meant to be redundant?

Really, no offense met, just feeling like I fail to grasp something important here and would like to understand it.


You are not disrespectful at all. I like your critical remark and I understand why you would ask this your self. I see them as 2 things. We map landuse like residentials and commercial areas to indicate how the land is used. With residential=* we can extend this area with information about how this residential area is built. You are correct that this information can also be mapped on the buildings. However, then it is no longer landuse mapping. I also see two other downsides of this

  1. It takes much more time for the mapper to add this information to all buildings. landuse=residential is often drawn around neighbourhoods or blocks. These areas often contain the same kind of buildings. To me, adding this information to buildings feels more redundant then adding it to the residential areas once.
  2. Data users who want to for example visualize the landuse first have to analyse and create the data if the information is added to the buildings. This makes using this data more time consuming for them.

if that is possible to achieve without massive complications then it is not a good reason

manual preprocessing just in case, for something that can be achieved automatically is quite poor reason for tagging something

Wait first. I don’t see wiki using “high-rise”. “multistory” doesn’t mean this.
=apartments is documented for “apartment complex”. Not simply any area with apartments inside. They should use =urban. You would be redefining some uses.
What does your “small apartments” mean anyway? Narrow? Short? They can still be “urban”.
=single_family and =detached are not the same concept. Another issue is you will run into confusion with single family zoning, debated and being acted upon in USA.
But it is true housing estates need a feature tag. landuse= is only a convenient concept for painting. Overlapping areas complicates the scene. Same issue in =industrial against man_made=works.
In fact there are “apartment complexes” with houses inside. The vice versa as well, an otherwise houses-only gated community with some apartment buildings.

=apartments is documented for “apartment complex”.

then it is contested as it would describe a feature and not just the kind of landuse

That’s what I asked for.
Depends on how “contested” it should be. 66% of them has name=, might indicate something. Interestingly usage only rise from 2019.

Sharp notice about the high-rise. However, especially in the Netherlands, we have quite some villages with small apartment buildings. They are multistory, often 3 or 4 stories. They are definitely not urban. I would classify these as residential=apartments. Although your notice makes me doubt this a bit.

Also, can you explain to me what the difference between single_family and detached is? Wiki also describes it as the same. Single-family detached home - Wikipedia

I disagree that landuse is just a concept for painting. It is used to define the use of an area to which you attach properties. You should see it a bit as zoning map on OSM. It makes perfectly sense to specify the type of buildings in the area on the landuse=residential. It means defining data on different scales. We also add the city to address while also mapping the admin border of a city. Imagine if you want to know the city area, you first have to analyse all addresses to create a border

  1. What’s the problem with =rural having some small apartments then? If you want to clean up residential=. it better be separated into building heights, building density (site coverage ratio), etc if needed.
  2. It is a compound term. Detached house is a type of single-family housing. Another important clause is this being US terminology. UK doesn’t use it upfront.
  3. (I’m not gonna discuss why it is not “zoning”) You are missing my point. Compare factories. landuse=industrial is an abstract aggregate conceptualization of what the general characterization of an area is overall. It is currently freely used to define any other aspect not covered by other tags yet. man_made=works is the feature, ie functional unit of activity, the individual factory business in operation. place=plot / boundary=lot is the land parcel. You can have multiple man_made=works in a landuse=industrial, maybe even vice versa because sub-area or sub-unit is currently not defined yet. A man_made=works can span multiple place=plot / boundary=lot, as well as the reverse of multiple smaller factories sharing a complex (not necessarily as big as an industrial park). landuse=industrial is being freely used for all levels and aspects. There is no tag for sub-area, businesses other than factories, industrial complexes, and industrial parks, if not also industrial districts. Lot is often a convenient concept to borrow or lend on, so there is further overlap. All this depend on the history of growth, planning context, scale of development, etc. New centrally planned areas can have very large street blocks and lots with a few developers, which then can be sub-divided. Old town and dense cities commonly work on individual buildings, and have fragmented ownership.
  1. You mean more like residential=rural|suburb|urban as 3 main values?
  2. I indeed know this is a US term. From what I understand the difference is close enough to be merged into 1 value
  3. So if I understand you correctly, you think landuse=residential is enough and detailing is done via features like buildings or man_made=works for industrial areas? Note that commercial, retail and industrial areas are much harder to subdivide into sub categories. Residential areas have much more recognizable sub categories like rural, urban, single_family etc. That is also why I am not going for a subtag for example for commercial or industrial.

It is a compound term. Detached house is a type of single-family housing. Another important clause is this being US terminology. UK doesn’t use it upfront.

We use detached house very frequently in the UK. But it’s definition is a little more focussed on architecture. A detached house is usually a single-family dwelling but it doesn’t have to be. It’s mostly down to whether the dwelling is attached to other properties.

I would recommend against using “single_family” as a term, since it implies that we know the domestic set-up of the properties in question. Which we don’t.

It’s also worth noting that housing types are often mixed in the UK, with detached properties alongside semi-detached and terraced houses. Yes, some developments are exclusively one type (depending when they were built) but this is rare with new developments (where developers are encouraged to include “affordable housing” which will generally be terraced or semi-detached properties).

(As an aside, I did an analysis of the housing tagging in Great Britain last year which some may find useful).