What Constitutes a Village?

Updated February 21, 2017

The question of what constitutes a village is as much influenced by imaginative and historical perceptions as population size and public services. Villages have an idyllic image, particularly for people living in large cities who dream of retiring to the country.

Essential Services

Villages in the U.S. have their own municipal authority and, although their population is smaller, share common characteristics with cities, including the provision of essential water, fire and sewage services. Like cities, they have more autonomy than towns and counties to govern themselves on local issues without state interference. Village municipalities provide services that support the local infrastructure, such as road and footpath maintenance and street lighting. Villages have schools, libraries, public gardens and public transportation facilities. In England, a place must contain at least one communal building to be categorised as a village.

Community Spirit

Villages often pride themselves on having a close-knit community and low crime rates. People tend to know one another if their village contains only a few hundred residents. Communal areas such as the village green, church or community hall are a centre for social and recreational activities. Activities such as annual fairs and bowling tournaments foster a sense of community spirit.


Idyllic perceptions of rose-covered cottages with shuttered windows and friendly villagers congregating around the local watering hole to shoot the breeze are embedded in the collective imagination of what constitutes a village. In reality, villagers living in remote rural areas sometimes feel isolated or experience poverty due to limited economic prospects. Social and geographic intimacy, whether real or imaginary, has its dark side. Literature abounds with stories of gossipy, small-minded villagers and protagonists ostracised by their neighbours when they don't conform to village life.


Some villages have unique characteristics that help to forge a sense of identity. Interesting historical buildings, award-winning flower gardens, a strong arts and craft tradition or even a famous resident can be a source of community pride and shared identity.

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About the Author

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.