Google Maps - City Borders

Google Maps has a feature for showing the borders of any city or zip code in the USA. Just search on the city name, or enter the zip code, and you’ll see a red line around the area. (I am somewhat annoyed about how it considers rivers and other bodies of water to be outside of the city, and therefore it puts the red border along both banks of the river, but that’s not what I’m asking about in this thread…)

On another thread, someone mentioned the geography of Clearwater, FL. So I went to Google Maps to take a look, and I was amazed by the many dozens of enclaves it seems to contain. The vast majority of them don’t seem to have any regard for streets or buildings. What’s going on there?

I see similar gray blocks in the bordering towns of Dunedin and Safety Harbor, though they aren’t as dramatic. The ones in Largo, FL seem to become visible and invisible at varying levels of zooming in and out.

I haven’t noticed this in other areas. Is it a Florida thing?

Pinellas County has its official municipal boundaries online at this site. I’d be surprised if, on closer examination, you find many properties that are half in and half out. Since WWII, suburban development has happened almost entirely parcel by parcel, as each 80-acre ranch or five-acre ranchette is divided into a few blocks and houselots, connected only to the section-line road arterials. (Most 19th century development in American cities happened the same way, but the “additions” generally tied to the preceding streets much more continuously and seamlessly.)

Enclaves are, unfortunately, fairly common in modern Sunbelt municipalities. Fast-growing modern municipalities have little incentive to annex land that’s still orange groves or pastureland. Even once developed with streets and houses, the municipality may still judge it not worth the trouble to annex. City services must be provided to anyone who wants to hook up, and the small increment in property taxes collected may not be sufficient to cover the cost of utility extensions. The original subdivision may have been built with substandard roads or drainage that the city doesn’t now want to assume responsibility for.

There may be something particular about Florida law that makes these untidy boundaries even more likely than in other states. However, the only thing I can immediately bring to mind is the state’s 1980s-era planning laws regarding infrastructure sufficiency.

Some places, as said by Mr_Downtown, might require too much work to in corporate them. In Frederick, MD, the Cloverhill section is carved out of the city. I used to live there and the people that live there didn’t want to be incorporated because it would require them to install sidewalks, water, and sewage.

Could be something that simple that the city keeps expanding but the people that live in those areas don’t want to be part of the city and votes to not be part of the city.

Amazing. Thanks!

Note how the boundaries fade out as you zoom in. Google isn’t particularly confident about their accuracy.

It happens in Indiana, too. Cities become larger, engulfing smaller communities. Sometimes, the little towns don’t want to be devoured, and they keep their original borders. My city, Anderson, contains a few little pocket towns, some no bigger than a street or two. Maybe an accountant could explain the financial advantages, but I can’t.

When Indianapolis, through Unigov, enfolded all of Marion County, little towns in the county such as Speedway and Rocky Ripple were given the option of not being annexed. Some went that way, and they remain separate.

There are a number of county islands in Maricopa County, Arizona. Is this term frequently used for unincorporated enclaves surrounded by an incorporated municipality in other states or countries?

Not around here-- I’d have assumed that a “county island” would be a part of another county enclosed by one county.

Presumably you call them that because those areas are controlled by the county rather than by a municipality, but that’s dependent on your own structure for local government, and every state’s structure is going to be different. For instance, in Ohio, every square inch of land that isn’t part of an incorporated municipality is instead part of some township or another, so it’d be township government. Counties do still have some authority, but what authority they have applies in both incorporated cities and in townships.

The corporate boundary of Rochester, NY is interesting – it has “pseudopods” that extend to the east and west. These are where the Eries Canal used to run before it was re-routed as The New York State Barge Canal to the south of the city. It originally ran right through downtown, and had a bridge that carried it over the Genessee River (presumably so there was no danger of barges being swept into the Falls of the Genessee). The bridge is still there, now carrying automobile traffic. After the canal dried up, they put down trai tracks, giving Rochester a subway. You can still find some of the stations. But the subwayu didn’t go where a lot of people actually wanted to go, so it died too. And all we’re left with are some ghost subway stops and a weird corporate boundary.

There’s another weird pseudopod to the north, where a corridor one street wide extends up to Durand-Eastman Park on Lake Ontario, apparently just so that the Park is physically connected with the rest of the city, rather than being an “island”

This happened in the outer areas of Columbus and its suburbs. The Ohio legislature made forced annexation very difficult in the second half of the 20th century, and existing residents in unincorporated areas almost never want to be annexed voluntarily (due to taxes and regulations and general us-vs-them syndrome) even if the cities would like to annex them, so what ended up happening is that the properties that were developed before the cities arrived in the area just got passed by. Sometimes this worked out for the unincorporated residents, sometimes it didn’t (at least one subdivision went without running water for decades).