Places in the US

Re: How many cities are there in the U.S.?

I came up with 23,437. My source was a ZIP file (I think from the USPS) of a list of places in the US. (I cut out the American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and other non-50-states areas.)

In only had 27 “places” listed for Rhode Island, notably missing North Kingstown, but it did have a Kingston.

It also listed Pittsburgh, but not Intercourse, PA. :frowning:

The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.

The US Geological Survey just uses the term “populated place”. They don’t worry about legal niceties.

According to their 1995 database, there are 160,271 individual populated places in the United States and its territories.

A “populated place” may be just a wide spot in the road where someone lives or a suburb or subdivision of a larger city.

A ZIP code directory just tells you where there are post offices.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I have no input on the mailbag topic itself. I just wanted to say that the article was a great read. Well done, Euty.

–Da Cap’n
“Playin’ solitaire 'til dawn
With a deck of fifty-one.”

Yeah, it was a well-written article.

‘City’ is a fuzzy term. Consider the
following questions:

If the US Post Office recognizes a place name, is it a city?

If a place is not incorporated, is it a city?

If a place is in another place, is the first
place a city?

example: Lincoln Park is in Chicago. Is
Lincoln Park a city?

Before you answer that last one too quickly,

Brooklyn is in New York City. Is Brooklyn
a city?

Whatever answers you are comfortable giving
to these, other people are going to give
different answers.

The answer depends on the context. For most
people’s purposes, there are about 19,500
cities in the U.S.

I agree. That was one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time.

According to this, there were 38,019 post offices in the USA as of May, 1998. And, of course, many cities and towns have more than one post office and some have none at all.


Hoo boy. What’s your definition of “place”? Many maps show “places” that are local appelations with no official sanction whatsoever. And some “places” won’t show up anywhere but very locally. E.g., Goulds Corners, NY, is a crossroads in northern New York that only shows on (some) maps of Jefferson County. Its population is about 50, larger than some places in the West that show up on US maps.

Here’s how I’d do it:

Bigger than "Places"
States: 50 of them.
Counties: Everybody but Alaska and Connecticut have them – Connecticut’s, IIRC, have been abolished as legal entities but remain in place as useful land divisions, e.g. for tax maps and such. Louisiana calls theirs “parishes.”

Cities: Legal entities created by the states with governments, mostly having plenary home rule powers. Virginia has independent cities not in counties; St. Louis, Baltimore, and San Francisco are unique (per state) cases of cities that are their own counties…the first two being surrounded on land by a county of the same name.
Boroughs: Pennsylvania has things smaller than cities with local governments and uses this term for them.
**Towns[sub]1[/sub] and Villages[sub]1[/sub]: Two variant names used by other states for smaller-than-city local governments

Townships and Towns[sub]2[/sub]: Geographic divisions of counties/parishes. In some areas they are restricted-powers local governments; in others, not. New York towns elect Supervisors and Town Boards and act like rural municipalities; North Carolina towns are villages, and townships are simple land divisions for ease in locating a parcel of land, a fire department, etc.
Villages[sub]2[/sub], Hamlets, and Crossroads: Pieces of land with houses near each other on them that get named for convenience. Where I live now, Pilot, shows on North Carolina maps, but its only legal existence is as the site of the Pilot Fire Department and the area with a reduced speed limit on the two state highways that cross in it.

Most states have websites where you can get lists of cities and towns[sub]1[/sub] or villages[sub]1[/sub].

Thanks for the wry kudos on my article. I should also give thanks to an uncredited assist from Ian Rey, who actually came up with the US Census figure. Thanks, Ian!

Saint Eutychus H.M.S.H.
“Vanity of vanities” says the preacher, “all is vanity and a chasing after the wind …”
Disney Shorts
The Eutychus Papers

The Statistical Abstract of the United States had the information from the Census Bureau as well. It’s usually the best place to look for “official” information from the Feds as they put it all into one fairly easy-to-read format.

Since the info isn’t copyright protected, some publishers slap a new cover on it and sell it and charge about $20 for something that you can get from the government for far less.

Bravo! Marvelous! Stupendous! Amazingdous!

(oh, wait, they didn’t have that one on the list of -dous words… my bad. :wink: )
Actually one of the best tongue-in-cheek pieces I have ever read. :slight_smile:

I think Euty and/or his wife is/are the king/queen of mailbag writer(s)!

Hear, hear! Bravo! (Er, brava?)

{My husband recommended I submit this for consideration:}

ESRI (an industry-standard GIS software package) provides a data set called “places”. Each “place” is classified as one of “CDP”, borough", “city”, “town”, or “village”. There
are 23435 “places” in the US, 9740 of which are classified by ESRI as “cities”.

FWIW, Pittsburgh is a “city”. Intercourse is not listed. Mars is a “borough”. Moon isn’t listed.

Superb article!

Here’s mud in yer eye,

Eutychus55 if The Straight Dope has a yearly reward for a Mailbag column that is written in the same caliber as Cecil himself, well you win the prize!

“You CAN’T be evil. 'Cos no matter how many ‘bad’ things you do on purpose,
you MUST be doing it because you think it’s the right thing to do.”

Kudos on Wry! My Favorite Sandwich! :smiley:

With magic, you can turn a frog into a prince. With science, you can turn a frog into a Ph.D, and you still have the frog you started with.

I too would like to serve my wry kudos, but I don’t know if it should be served with mayo or mustard. And need to call the boys in the white coats for the possibly hermaphroditic Euty. I am going to obfuscate the matter. Every one seems to be using a more or less “legal” definition of 'City" An incorporated area, without much emphasis on size. But when I first saw the question, I read it more subjectively. Most of the dictionary definitions I found are similar to." an inhabited place of greater size, population, or importance than a town or village “or” a usually large or important municipality in the US governed under a charter granted by the state "Most of the states seem to define city, town, township, village, etc. by the type of government and /or the amount of autonomy they have. Texas has City of… (pretty much passes its own laws) Town of… (uses a set of state passed laws) and other classifications in between, without any reference to size. It’s possible, for a town to be larger than a city. Do the people of Dallas, pop. 1,000,00+ think of the suburb of Garland pop. 200,000 as a city? No, it is a suburb, wouldn’t be any thing without Dallas. Do the people of Dallas think of Ft. Worth, no wait bad example. People in Dallas think about Abilene (106,000) different than the people of Trent,Texas (pop 300) (though the Trent City Hall has a great sign, “Council of Trent”) People in Trent think about Ailene as the city, but when they are going to the super market, they say they are “going to town” So if anyone else read it that way, how many “cities” are there? When does a ‘town’ become a “city”? Yeh, it’s gonna be arbitrary and subjective, but if we reach a consenses, then how many “cities” are there, Euty?

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.”-Marx

Mr. John , you will get your kudos on white bread & like it , 'cause you are a white bread kind of guy.

This is not gratuitous abuse. Your definition of a city is too vague to be answered with any kind of intellectual rigor, & it would give poor Eusty facial ticks anyway.

With magic, you can turn a frog into a prince. With science, you can turn a frog into a Ph.D, and you still have the frog you started with.

Good points mr john. I grew up in Maryland, where the unincorporated communities of Silver Spring, Bethesda, Wheaton, Columbia, Dundalk, and Towson have larger populations (each) than any Maryland city except Baltimore. I lived in downtown Silver Spring, just five minutes walk from the DC line. It felt more like a city to me than my college town of Albany, New York did.

Just a thought regarding relying on USPS data. The Houston metropolitan area encompasses many independent municipalities, such as West University, South Side Place and Bellaire. They have their own mayors, police, fire departments, traffic laws, etc. But the mailing addresses for all the ones I listed are Houston. That’s not the case for all our neighboring cities.