The word township is used to refer to different kinds of settlements in different countries. While township may be associated with an urban area, there are many exceptions to this rule. In Australia, the United States, and Canada, they may be settlements too small to be considered urban.
In Australia, the designation of "township" traditionally refers to a small town—a small community in a rural district: such a place in Britain might qualify as a village or a hamlet. The term refers purely to the settlement; it does not refer to a unit of government. Clayton are governed as part of a larger (e.g. shire or city) council.
In Canada, two kinds of township occur in common use.
- In eastern Canada a township is one form of the subdivision of a county. In Canadian French, this is a canton. Townships are referred to as "lots" in Prince Edward Island and merely form census subdivisions and are not administrative units. In Canada, a municipality is a city, town, township, county, or regional municipality which has been incorporated by statute by the legislatures of the provinces and territories. It is also a specific designation for certain municipalities in Quebec (see types of municipalities in Quebec), Nova Scotia and Ontario. Certain areas of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are designated as rural municipalities, while equivalent areas in Alberta are designated as municipal districts and some in British Columbia are designated as district municipalities.
- In western Canada townships exist only for the purpose of land division by the Dominion Land Survey and do not form administrative units. These townships are six miles by six miles (36 square miles, or roughly 93.24 km²). Townships are designated by their township number and range number. Township 1 is the first north of the First Base Line, and the numbers increase to the north.
In the early 1950s the Israeli army relocated the majority of the Bedouin living in the Negev to an area under Martial Law north of Beersheba know as the Siyah ("the fence" in Arabic and Hebrew). These Bedouin were about 20% of the pre-1948 population who remained in the area after the war and the various expulsions that took place. They numbered between 10,000 and 15,000.
From 1967, the Israeli government started a program of urbanisation with the construction of the first Bedouin township, tel as Sabi. Over the next 22 years a further six were built, some on the sites of existing villages. The second, started in 1972, was Rahat and is now categorised as a city with a population in 2010 of 53,095. The remaining five have populations of between 7,739 to 17,500. The seven bedouin townships are amongst the 8 poorest localities in Israel.
In the 1990s, approximately half the 170,000 Negev Bedouin lived in 39 unrecognised villages without connection to the national electricity, water and telephone grids. In 2011 after much debate the government put forward proposals in 2011 to recognise or relocate thirteen of the unrecognised villages as official Bedouin townships. The townships are not popular. In 2006 one village, Wadi al-Na'am withdrew from plans to be relocated. One resident of a township told Human Rights Watch that it was like living in a "low-class motel".
In local government in New Zealand, there are no longer towns or townships. All land is part of either a "city" (mostly urban) or a "district" (mostly rural). The term "municipality" has become rare in New Zealand since about 1979 and has no legal status.
The term "township" is however still in common usage in New Zealand in reference to a small town or urban community located in a rural area. The expression would generally equate to that of "village" in England.
In South Africa, under Apartheid, the term township (or location) in everyday usage, came to mean a residential development that confined non-whites (Blacks, Coloureds, and Indians) living near or working in white-only communities. Soweto ("SOuth-WEstern TOwnships") furnishes a well-known example. However, the term township also has a precise legal meaning, and is used on land titles (in all areas, not only traditionally non-white areas).
In the United Kingdom, the term township is no longer in official use, but the term still has some meaning.
In England, "township" referred to a subdivision used to administer a large parish. This use became obsolete at the end of the 19th century, when local government reform converted many townships that had been subdivisions of ancient parishes into the newer civil parishes in their own right. This formally separated the connection between the ecclesiastical functions of ancient parishes and the civil administrative functions that had been started in the 16th century. Recently, some councils, normally in the north of England, have revived the term. Municipalities as a term lived on longer until the local government reforms of 1974. A municipal council was the name given to a type of local government council administering a Municipal Borough that could contain civil parishes or be unparished.
In Scotland, the term is still used for some rural settlements. In parts of north west Scotland (Highlands and Islands), a "township" is a crofting settlement. In the Scottish Highlands generally the term may describe a very small agrarian community, usually a local rural or semi-rural government within a county.
- A civil township is a widely used unit of local government in the United States, subordinate to a county. Specific responsibilities and the degree of autonomy vary based on each state. In many states, townships are organized and operate under the authority of state statutes, similar to counties. In others, townships operate as municipal corporations - chartered entities with a degree of home rule. However, there are some exceptions, the most notable ones being New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where townships are a class of incorporation with fixed boundaries and equal standing to a village, town, borough, or city, analogous to a New England town or towns in New York.
In Zimbabwe, the term township was used for segregated parts of suburban areas. During colonial years of Rhodesia, the term township referred to a residential area reserved for black citizens within the boundaries of a city or town, and is still commonly used colloquially. This reflected the South African usage.
In modern Zimbabwe it is also used to refer to a residential area within close proximity of a rural growth point.
In the context of Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and CIS states, the term is sometimes used to denote a small semi-urban, sometimes industrial, settlement and used to translate the terms поселок городского типа (townlet), посад (posad), местечко (mestechko, from Polish "miasteczko", a small town; in the cases of predominant Jewish population the latter is sometimes translated as shtetl).
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- Tel as Sabi - 15,700; Shaqib al-Salam (1979) 7,739; Ar'arat an-Naqab (1982) 12,700; Lakiya (1982) 9,943; Kuseife (1982) 17,400; Hura (1989) 17,500.
- Human Rights Watch (March 2008 Vol 20, No5) Off the Map. Land and Housing Rights Violations in Israel's Unrecognised Bedouin Villages. p.91.
- HRW. p.17 referring to tel as Sabi.
- Winchester, A. (2000), Discovering parish boundaries, Princes Risborough, UK.: Shire Publications, pp. 21–29, ISBN 0-7478-0470-2
- Youngs, F. A. (1991), Guide to the local administrative units of England. Volume II: Northern England, London: Royal Historical Society, pp. i–xx, ISBN 0-86193-127-0