Administrative level of townships in Maine

I propose that we retag each of the township boundary relations in Maine, replacing admin_level=9 with admin_level=8.

Each of Maine’s counties is completely subdivided by townships and municipalities (plantations, towns, and cities). Townships are purely administrative subdivisions of the county’s territory and don’t have their own associated government. No township overlaps an organized local administrative area. Township names include or consist of a survey township name, but there isn’t a one-for-one correspondence between townships and survey townships.

There are 461 administrative boundary relations in Maine tagged with border_type=township admin_level=9. The “United States admin level” wiki page had originally stated that townships in Maine should be level 7, but it was changed to 9 in February 2021 after two discussions among New England–based mappers on OSMUS Slack. From this more recent discussion, the reasoning was that the townships, being unincorporated, are less important than towns and cities.

I disagree with the current documentation and believe that the townships should be promoted to level 8. admin_level is for placing the boundary in a topological hierarchy of administrative areas, not for indicating the size or comprehensiveness of its government authority.

The key consideration is that a town or city cannot be located within a township; conversely, a township cannot be located within a town or city. Several other states have similar administrative structures at level 8 (or 7, in states where a township can contain a municipality). If you see references to named “unorganized territories” that contain townships, these appear to be Census Bureau designations, similar to the census county divisions in states like California that lack civil townships, so I don’t think it’s necessary to leave room for unorganized territories at level 8.

Across the U.S., many of the administrative areas at level 6 provide minimal government services compared to more local government units. The border_type=township tag is sufficient for informing savvy data consumers that there is something less significant about the townships. Mapping actual populated places as place nodes (with label roles) can reinforce this distinction. Promoting townships to level 8 would make the spatial relationship between townships and neighboring municipalities a little clearer, albeit with the downside that data consumers will have to rely on something else if they want to ignore unincorporated administrative boundaries.

As a side note, I think the “United States admin level” page has caused some confusion regarding the purpose of admin_level tagging. There’s enough discussion about forms of government that some mappers may have overlooked the key points about spatial containment and equivalence.

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