NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unincorporated Areas Gaining Recognition

June 25, 2003

As development builds outside cities, areas that have no legacy of municipal government are thriving without becoming cities. They have many qualities cities have: large populations, busy commercial centers, sprawling subdivisions. But they're not cities. There's no mayor. Residents can't fight city hall because there isn't one.

These fast-growing unincorporated areas reflect a national shift toward turning some government functions over to private companies and away from multiple layers of government. For people in these areas, becoming a traditional city is unnecessary.

  • Paradise, Nevada, controls 96 percent of the Vegas Strip, which is in Clark County, not Las Vegas -- and 186,070 people live in the 44-square-mile area year round.
  • It's the most populous unincorporated place in the country, but most visitors have never heard of it.
  • Other "non-cities" are better known, including Columbia, Md.; Kendall, near Miami, Fla.; Reston, Va.; and East Los Angeles.

Many of these places can grow without becoming cities because they have strong private or county governments:

  • In communities that were barren desert or rural farmland before developers built thousands of houses, homeowners' associations rule.
  • They establish covenants that regulate the appearance and lifestyle of the new subdivision.
  • They collect homeowners' dues to pay for private roads, landscaping, lighting and sometimes trash pickup. But their counties provide all other services.

For communities to survive without municipal government, they must be in counties that can provide essential public services effectively.

Source: Haya El Nasser, "Some big places find paradise in not being real cities Residents avoid layers of government, taxes," USA TODAY, June 25, 2003.


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