“Many places in Maryland aren’t a “town” or “city” in the traditional sense: they don’t have a local government or strict, official boundaries. To help people mentally define these places, I made these maps of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
In most of the United States, populated places are set up as a town or city, with a mayor, a local government, and defined boundaries, and any places that aren’t are usually rural. That’s not the case in Maryland, where most places are unincorporated, and local government happens at the county level. Some unincorporated places may still have thousands of residents: Germantown, the largest “city” in Maryland after Baltimore, has over 100,000 people.
In those cases, there are usually a couple of other ways that communities are defined. The US Postal Service assigns every place a zip code, with at least one acceptable “city” name attached. And the US Census Bureau creates its own boundaries, called a Census Designated Place (CDP), if it determines the place is populated and used by local residents in daily communication (rather than as a name solely for planning or other purposes). The CDP’s boundaries are mapped based on the geographic extent associated with inhabitants’ regular use of the named place.
The result of having so many different and conflicting boundaries is that it can be hard to say where a place actually is. Residents of a given community might strongly identify with that place, but may disagree with each other as to where it actually is, or even what it’s called.”