Here it is via satellite: Reno, NV.


The biggest little gem nestled in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada, bisected one way by the Truckee River and the other by Highway 395. At this scale, the gray urban landscape has blended into green, and it’s clear to see where Reno isn’t: the surrounding dusty brown Nevada hills outline where the city doesn’t grow. There’s a lot more going on here that we can’t see on the satellite feed. Namely, the actual boundaries. The anthropological places named and bound by people.

Let’s turn on Reno’s edges.


That’s the official city limit of Reno. A bit of a meandering sprawl. You can see the ghostly outlines of other Reno-ish areas, so let’s get into them next with some labels.


Yikes. I forgot about Sparks. In addition to the city of Sparks, this map reveals the surrounding census designated places (CDPs) and how they fit into the greater Reno area. Would it make sense to include them in a map of Reno neighborhoods? Are people from Sparks also from Reno, or are they distinctly different? Is SparksĀ moreĀ like a neighborhood of Reno than a neighbor city? If so, that’s the first dilemma in making a neighborhoods map of a place where two cities have grown together. That’s what a Reno map would look like at 1:250,000.

Let’s zoom in a bit more and take a closer look at Reno’s guts.


At this scale, Midtown, Reno’s premier district, is still a tiny wedge. Additionally, are these places distinct enough in character to even be considered neighborhoods? How do they compare to each other in a city where everything is a 20 minute drive away from the airport? These are the questions the cartographer has to ask when charting intangible boundaries such as “neighborhoods.” Maybe Reno is one big neighborhood? Maybe, in time, Reno will develop more and more character and each little neighborhood will have a truly distinct feel. The neighborhoods as they exist have some differences in architecture, but other than the residences, is there really much difference between Southwest Reno and Caughlin Ranch? West University and Northwest Reno?

For now, Reno is a commuter’s town with a few different flavors of strip malls and suburban sprawl wrapped around a single centrally located commercial district.


I still want Lil’ Portland to be a thing.


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