What the Heck is a “Census-Designated Place?”

I’ve just returned from this year’s TBEX Conference (Travel Blog Exchange) in spectacular little town called Keystone, Colorado. Did I say town? I didn’t exactly mean that…

See, Keystone isn’t a real town. It’s merely just a resort (and a fantastic one at that) surrounded by the immense natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. It was a real sight to behold, especially waking up every morning to babbling brooks and views like this outside my window:

Keystone, CO

The view from the condo I stayed in! Pretty, isn’t it?

But this insular little community troubled me the entire time I was there. It felt like a resort. Its logo was everywhere. Something was off here. But what was it…

Interwebs, don’t fail me now! And the answer, as I and my fellow researcher Laurel came to learn on Sunday night is that Keystone, Colorado is not technically a town. No, no, it’s a little something termed as a Census-Designated Place.

A what?

What’s a Census-Designated Place?

Turns out a Census-Designated Place, or CDP, is a term assigned by the U.S. Census Bureau to communities that resemble cities but lack incorporation or any sort of municipal government. Or a post office, it seems (at least in the case of Keystone).

So in the eyes of the Census Bureau, Keystone is not a real place. Great! But it gets slightly more complicated than that…

View from the Gondola

The view on the 25 minute gondola ride to the top of the mountain!

Hawaii for instance, doesn’t have incorporated communities, making it a state full of Census-Designated Places… Take Honolulu. According to Wikipedia, Honolulu is considered both a county and a city and the government is consolidated into one, so the Census Bureau considers the urbanized areas of Honolulu to be a Census-Designated Place. Crazy, right??

A Census-Designated Place may be nothing more than a statistical blip according to the Census Bureau, but I think they’re kind of fascinating. Though I don’t think anyone would argue that Honolulu isn’t a real city, we now know what we can call a town that is nothing more than a corporate owned resort. So please, let’s get our terminology straight here. And know that next time you find yourself in an isolated resort that you may not be in a town at all! At least according to the Census Bureau!

Oh, and the conference?

Blogging Fun...

A little social media joke in a presentation by CC Chapman.

As for Keystone and the conference? They were both awesome (this year’s TBEX was a major improvement over last year, with reliable WiFi and coffee!) and the perfect end to my 5 weeks of travel through Turkey and Iraq (with an all-too-brief stop in Vienna). And just what was it like to travel in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region? Well, you’ll have to wait till Sunday to find out!

Cheers! And here’s to Census-Designated Places everywhere!

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15 Responses to What the Heck is a “Census-Designated Place?”

  1. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy June 22, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    I’m usually informed about this sort of trivia, but this is a new term for me. Thanks for the education (and it was nice meeting you at the event!)

    • Aaron June 22, 2012 at 2:51 am #

      Hahaha yes it is rather useless trivia, isn’t it? This search came up at Sunday’s party is that tells you anything… Great to meet you too!

  2. Caanan @ No Vacation Required June 22, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    So interesting. We find that these resort communities (or, now that I have been edumacated, CDPs) tend to feel a little peculiar. Fascinatin gto learn about Hawai’i as well. I actually commented to Kent that the whole Keystone “brand” reminded me of Ka’anapali in Maui.

  3. craig zabransky June 22, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    Wow, I never knew this… so is it “what happens in CDPs stays in CDPs?

    And so agree, great conference and great CDP that Keystone.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Aaron June 23, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      Clearly. Except the inspiration for this post, apparently…

  4. Nico November 1, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    They definitely need to sort out their definitions. Honolulu and Keystone don’t seem to have at much in common, but then that’s the same with the English definition of towns and cities. Some places just don’t conform to common sense.

    Nico recently posted… The highs and lows of travelling with friends

    • Aaron November 1, 2012 at 11:25 am #

      I agree. It’s such an odd phenomenon that really has more to do with whether a location has “incorporated” into a municipality. It’s one of those strange technicalities that people really don’t know about unless you do some digging!

  5. Lani November 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks for enlightening me. I live in what must be a Census Designated Place in the middle of the redwoods. Population 520 (in 201). I am continuously amused by most forms we have to fill out that ask for your address, including “city”. I have always wondererd what category our little CDP fell under – City, town, village or something else. Guess it’s something else!

    I’ll take our little CDP any day over cities, towns, etc.

    • Aaron December 2, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      Now that is a small town! I’m assuming your CDP still has a name, though, right? Do you have an elected municipal government?

      Must be beautiful living amongst those redwoods though! I don’t blame you for wanting to keep what sounds like your own little slice of Heaven!

  6. Nancy Lucy Lawicki August 14, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    Hi Aaron, I happened upon your blog googling CDP, simply because I am in Orlando Fl and my weather app read Williamsburg, which I have never heard of. Turns out it’s a cdp. Never heard of it! My sister lives in Honolulu, so of course I’ve been many times…..and I also come from Massachusetts, but love to travel with my family in tow. Thanks this great explanation. I’ll follow you on Facebook, to see your travel adventures! Lucy

    • Aaron August 17, 2015 at 12:32 am #

      Hi Lucy, thanks for stopping by! Also a fun little CDP (that I didn’t mention in the post) is Paradise, NV. Have you ever been to Las Vegas? If so, check your weather app on the Strip and it will say Paradise! Las Vegas proper is actually north of the Strip!

      Do you still live in Massachusetts?

  7. DJ August 27, 2015 at 12:11 am #

    Ever take a look at Alaskan CDPs? Growing up in Alaska I’ve always been interested by CDPs as much of the population lives in a CDP instead of an incorporated place. I currently live in the Kink-Fairview CDP. It has a population of 15,000. It’s twice the population of nearby Wasilla, which is the six largest city in the state. Another CDP, Badger, has nearly 20,000 residents, and borders Fairbanks, which only has 10,000 more within its city limits. I think CDP’s throw people off when they look at populations in Alaska. The largest cities are Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, but then there’s some large areas that aren’t considered between those and the ones that follow. So, not all CDP’s are little resort towns. :) Just wanted to mention that when I saw your post.

    • Aaron August 30, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

      No I haven’t but I’ve come to realize that CDP’s are just about everywhere, even if we don’t realize it! Have you ever been to Vegas? The Strip isn’t actually in Las Vegas at all, but in a CDP called Paradise, NV! Interesting to hear that so much of Alaska is unincorporated too! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Fen September 2, 2015 at 2:18 am #

    New York, where I’m from, Villages and Cities are the only incorporated municipalities, but all other areas in the state are in Towns. These Towns are unincorporated municipalities but contain many places I am likely to call a “town”, which are usually CDPs but have no form of government whatsoever. It might seem strange that a place is unincorporated, yet also a municipality, so maybe think of New York Towns as counties within counties; Counties are not “incorporated”, yet often have governments.
    For example, Centerport, Huntington, and Melville are three CDPs in my Town of Huntington. While someone from the Huntington CDP will always say they’re from Huntington, people in Centerport and Melville are unlikely to say they’re from Huntington unless they are
    1) dealing with municipal matters like zoning, or
    2) speaking with people unfamiliar with the location of Melville or Centerport.
    Basically there are lots of CDPs because “Towns” in NY are large enough to have lots of distinct places.

    • Aaron September 4, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

      Wait, so, some counties don’t have local governments in New York? I live in NYC and I can’t say I’ve ever thought about this before (we’re kind of a special case). How does that work, then? Interesting that so many of these towns are unincorporated. I wonder why that is? Thanks for sharing!

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