The Census Bureau defines "urban" for the 1990 census as comprising all territory, population, and housing units in urbanized areas and in places of 2,500 or more persons outside urbanized areas. More specifically, "urban" consists of territory, persons, and housing units in:
1. Places of 2,500 or more persons incorporated as cities, villages, boroughs (except in Alaska and New York), and towns (except in the six New England States, New York, and Wisconsin), but excluding the rural portions of "extended cities."
2. Census designated places of 2,500 or more persons.
3. Other territory, incorporated or unincorporated, included in urbanized areas.
Territory, population, and housing units not classified as urban constitute "rural." In the 100-percent data products, "rural" is divided into "places of less than 2,500" and "not in places." The "not in places" category comprises "rural" outside incorporated and census designated places and the rural portions of extended cities. In many data products, the term "other rural" is used; "other rural" is a residual category specific to the classification of the rural in each data product.
In the sample data products, rural population and housing units are subdivided into "rural farm" and "rural nonfarm." "Rural farm" comprises all rural households and housing units on farms (places from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were sold in 1989); "rural nonfarm" comprises the remaining rural.
The urban and rural classification cuts across the other hierarchies; for example, there is generally both urban and rural territory within both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.
In censuses prior to 1950, "urban" comprised all territory, persons, and housing units in incorporated places of 2,500 or more persons, and in areas (usually minor civil divisions) classified as urban under special rules relating to population size and density. The definition of urban that restricted itself to incorporated places having 2,500 or more persons excluded many large, densely settled areas merely because they were not incorporated. Prior to the 1950 census, the Census Bureau attempted to avoid some of the more obvious omissions by classifying selected areas as "urban under special rules." Even with these rules, however, many large, closely built-up areas were excluded from the urban category.
To improve its measure of urban territory, population, and housing units, the Census Bureau adopted the concept of the urbanized area and delineated boundaries for unincorporated places (now, census designated places) for the 1950 census. Urban was defined as territory, persons, and housing units in urbanized areas and, outside urbanized areas, in all places, incorporated or unincorporated, that had 2,500 or more persons. With the following three exceptions, the 1950 census definition of urban has continued substantially unchanged. First, in the 1960 census (but not in the 1970, 1980, or 1990 censuses), certain towns in the New England States, townships in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Arlington County, Virginia, were designated as urban. However, most of these "special rule" areas would have been classified as urban anyway because they were included in an urbanized area or in an unincorporated place of 2,500 or more persons. Second, "extended cities" were identified for the 1970, 1980, and 1990 censuses. Extended cities primarily affect the figures for urban and rural territory (area), but have very little effect on the urban and rural population and housing units at the national and State levels-- although for some individual counties and urbanized areas, the effects have been more evident. Third, changes since the 1970 census in the criteria for defining urbanized areas have permitted these areas to be defined around smaller centers.
Documentation of the urbanized area and extended city criteria is available from the Chief, Geography Division, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Washington, DC 20233.
Since the 1960 census, there has been a trend in some States toward the extension of city boundaries to include territory that is essentially rural in character. The classification of all the population and living quarters of such places as urban would include in the urban designation territory, persons, and housing units whose environment is primarily rural. For the 1970, 1980, and 1990 censuses, the Census Bureau identified as rural such territory and its population and housing units for each extended city whose closely settled area was located in an urbanized area. For the 1990 census, this classification also has been applied to certain places outside urbanized areas. In summary presentations by size of place, the urban portion of an extended city is classified by the population of the entire place; the rural portion is included in "other rural."