ADMINISTRATIVE BOUNDARIES

Anywhere that administrative units are established, the boundaries of their jurisdiction must be defined. States and their internal divisions have followed various principles in establishing these boundaries.

(For a discussion of legislative district boundaries, click here.)

Suggestions and additions welcomed at aloe@rev.net.

COMPARISON OF THEORIES

This chart compares several theories of boundary selection, including the spoils system, the nation state, formation of military frontiers, and recognition of bioregions. A bibliography is being compiled.

TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
NODE (settlement, transport, and distribution market pattern) Boundaries follow path of minimum population. Minimizes transport cost.

Minimizes frontier population.

Promotes statistical integrity.

Invisible.

Divisive effect in rural regions.

Latin America Costa Rica

Chile

England

Italy

Canada

Germany

Malaysia

Saudi Arabia

Ukraine

Missouri, USA

New Jersey, USA

Throughout history. Walter Christaller

G. Etzel Pearcy

Jane Jacobs

NODE (settlement, transport, and distribution market pattern)
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
RIDGE Boundary follows mountaintops. Visible

Stable

Inapplicable to plains. South Asia

Pyrenees

Swiss cantons

Bohemia

Burma

Chile

Costa Rica

Peru

Maryland, USA

Pennsylvania, USA

Antiquity to 19th century RIDGE
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
DRAINAGE BASIN Boundary separates drainage basins of rivers. Minimizes conflict over vital resource. Boundary can be difficult to locate on flat land. Italy Gambia Bangladesh

Guinea

Portugal

Appalachia

Colorado, USA

North Dakota, USA

South Dakota, USA

Wyoming, USA

Akron, Ohio, USA

Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Antiquity to 19th century Gary Snyder

Kirkpatrick Sale

DRAINAGE BASIN
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
SPOILS Loser yields territory to victor. Resists military challenge. Ignores most practical administrative considerations.

Can promote resentment by subject people.

Tends to contort and corrupt geographic perception to fit irrational political paradigm.

Americas Palestine

Prussia

Tibet

Trent

Puerto Rico

Quebec, Canada

New Mexico, USA

Sinai Peninsula Antiquity to 20th century. Adolf Hitler SPOILS
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
TOPOGRAPHIC UNITY Boundary outlines consistent topography. Visible Can affect urban concentrations around gate cities, which tend to develop at mountain gaps. Scandinavia Iran

Norway

Germany

Colorado, USA

Maryland, USA

New Mexico, USA

Texas, USA

Antiquity to present TOPOGRAPHIC UNITY
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
MILITARY FRONTIER Boundary includes defensible perimeter. Animal territory provides biological precedent. Inefficient to establish and maintain.

People of frontier territory must bear burden of security for interior population and institutions of state.

Tends to contort and corrupt geographic perception to fit irrational political paradigm.

China

Paraguay

Iron Curtain

Ireland Ancient empires to present Joseph Stalin MILITARY FRONTIER
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
HISTORY Boundary placed where it was at some time in the past. Can be stable. Inflexible

Accumulates inefficiency.

Requires research and interpretation of archives.

Promotes litigation of old claims.

In ovsverving one period of history, can deny all others.

Tends to contort and corrupt geographic perception to fit irrational political paradigm.

Africa Israel Austria

Poland

Perpetual HISTORY
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
LOCUS Boundary established at chosen distance from geographic feature (or equal distance from two features). Easy to establish from map alone. Usually invisible

Usually one-sided

uncommon Delaware, USA (from New Castle)

Essex Co., MA, USA (from Merrimack River)

Town of Babylon, Suffolk County, NY, USA (from railroad)

Norway

Somalia

Nevada, USA

17th-19th century LOCUS
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
POLYGON Boundaries follow straight lines between landmarks. Easy to draw

Tend to minimize boundary length

Lines themselves are generally meaningless.

Tends to contort and corrupt geographic perception to fit irrational political paradigm.

Africa

East coast of U.S.A.

Algeria

Kuwait

Connecticut, USA

District of Columbia, USA

towns in New England, USA

Chile

Idaho, USA

17th-20th century POLYGON
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
WATERWAY Boundary follows main channel of river or other body of water. Visible Where river is used for transportation, can divide regions.

Following meanders creates lengthy, complex, boudaries that require frequent adjustment.

Encourages river diversion.

U.S.A. Japan

Manchuria

New Jersey, USA

Texas, USA (Red River and Rio Grande)

Portugal 18th-19th century L.J. Bouchez WATERWAY
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
RECTANGULAR COORDINATES Boundaries follow chosen meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude. Easy to establish in remote unsettled areas Ignores attributes of land.

Ignores social organization.

Requires accurate survey.

Can create severe inefficiency if boundary crosses settlement.

Tends to contort and corrupt geographic perception to fit irrational political paradigm.

Australia

North America

Egypt

Wyoming, USA

Saskatchewan, Canada

Colorado, USA

Utah, USA

New Mexico, USA

Europe

New England

South Carolina, USA

19th century James K. Polk RECTANGULAR COORDINATES
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
NATION Uniting people with common culture. Promotes cohesion. Breaks multi-ethnic regions in unsatisfactory ways.

Can create minority enclaves.

Europe Iceland

Vietnam

Fertile Crescent

Belgium

Burundi

Rwanda

Switzerland

ends of Pyrenees

19th-20th century Otto Von Bismarck NATION
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
SIZE Boundaries location chosen mainly to equalize some quantity between jurisdictions. Tends to equalize budgets and workloads. Boundaries sometimes fall at inconvenient locations. Midwestern USA counties in Kansas, USA (area)

planning areas based on council districts in City of San Jose, California, USA (population)

United Nations

Argentinian states

counties in Arizona, California, and Nevada, USA

19th-20th century SIZE
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
RELIGION Uniting people of same religion, separating people of different religions, or pretending to do either. Concentrates temporal power in hands of ecclesiastical authorities.

Divides pluralistic societies.

Complicates individual rights.

Asia Bangladesh

Bosnia

Israel

Ireland

Germany

Latvia

Lebanon

Netherlands

Florida, USA

20th century Mohammed Ali Jinnah RELIGION
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE
BIOREGION Boundaries separate ecosystems. Unites ecosystems and habitats.

Promotes conservation.

Can overlap, because of divergence of sub-theories.

Can create inefficient narrow strips.

Iceland Argentina

Sudan

Turkey

Montana, USA

Texas, USA

not yet widespread Planet Drum Foundation

National Geographic

Gary Snyder

Kirkpatrick Sale

Peter Berg

BIOREGION
TYPE DESCRIPTION ADVANTAGE DRAWBACK WHERE COMMON CURRENT EXAMPLE CURRENT DEFIANCE WHEN INITIATED PROPONENT TYPE

Sources are listed in the bibliography.

COMBINATIONS

Some boundaries combine theories.

A few examples follow. We'd like to hear of others at aloe@rev.net.

TYPES THEORY EXAMPLE DESCRIPTION CONTRIBUTOR
LOCUS

RECTANGULAR COORDINATES

Because locus boundaries are usually mapped with reference to distant monument points, they are difficult to survey on the ground. Some are later moved slightly to coincide with low-level survey boundaries. Dawson Co., MT, USA The boundary was established at a given distance from Glendive, then slightly altered to follow rectangular section lines. Charles Hendricksen
TYPES THEORY EXAMPLE DESCRIPTION CONTRIBUTOR
NODE

RIDGE

DRAINAGE BASIN

NATION

RELIGION

Mountain ridges often separated drainage basins. They can form barriers to transportation, minimizing trade, communication, and migration between communities on opposite sides. Swiss cantons Switzerland allows its administrative units to organize around existing communities. People tend to chose to be included with others they are in contact with, often sharing language, religion, and tradition. Ward Cleaver
TYPES THEORY EXAMPLE DESCRIPTION CONTRIBUTOR

Related links about geography

Runaway mutant boundaries develop into monolithic monster town of 700,000 inhabitants!

Discussion of legislative districts

The Center for Voting and Democracy discusses methods of election.


Can you follow the chart, or would you rather see the information arranged differently? Can you suggest any changes?
Send mail to aloe@rev.net.

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ADMINISTRATIVE BOUNDARIES FOR NORTH AMERICA
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Last updated: 11 March 2010
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