Where exactly is “Upstate NY”? Where does “Downstate NY” draw its border? It’s the age-old New Yorker argument and for many of us, it’s a very touchy subject. After all, these are not actual regions in New York that we are talking about but more of a way of life or state of mind (no Billy Joel pun intended). Having family and friends that live all over the Empire State, I’ve heard arguments from all sides. After hearing everyone’s points I’ve layed out a comprehensive guide for all New Yorkers to enjoy. Living in one of the “in-between” counties, I also throw in my 2-cents to help solidify these imaginary borders.
Exhibit A: Everything is Relative
The definition of “upstate” is somewhat open to interpretation from people that live in different regions. Just check out the arguments people have about it in Urban Dictionary. The picture above shows New York broken up into 3 areas. Upstate, downstate and central New York. This is how an out-of-stater might see those regions (as well as most central New Yorkers). To them upstate and downstate are 2 regions based solely on geographic position relative to the whole state. But again, these are not actual regions we’re talking about here.
People that live near the Adirondacks of northern NY know that there’s no way to twist it. They definitely live upstate. People that live in the Capital, Finger Lakes, Twin Tier and Western NY regions try to remain indifferent to these borders. They don’t want to be called “upstate” but they know for sure that they don’t live downstate. Long Islander’s and New York(City)ers believe that they live downstate and everything else is upstate.
Exhibit B: There is no “Downstate”
Part of the problem with defining these areas is that “Downstate” New York doesn’t actually exist. All over pop culture you see New York City natives saying “upstate”. It’s in cop shows, reality TV and even movies. Nobody in Albany says their friends live “downstate”. They’d just say New York City or Long Island. In a way, the word “upstate” came about as a lazy way for people in New York City to refer to any part of New York that was north of the city. Since it is the southernmost part of the state, the word “upstate” is used to describe a very large area. You can call them “downstate” but there are many more names to call NYC and Long Island that are more accurate (ie NY Metropolitan Area).
Many people also misuse upstate and downstate. These words can be used as directions, or alternatives to saying North and South. If taken in the wrong context, one would think you’re talking about an area rather than the direction.
Exhibit C: Wikipedia
“There is no clear or official boundary between Upstate New York and Downstate New York. Latitude is generally a consideration in whether or not a place is “upstate”, as well as elevation and being away from sea level. Distance from New York City is also a consideration.“-wikipedia
Many people still consider NYC to be the center of the world so it makes sense that the distance from NYC is one of the main considerations in determining your “region”. The red area shown is part of the New York Metropolitan area. The orange area is a little more ambiguous but is considered to be within the New York City Sphere of Influence and is usually considered “upstate”. From these definitions we can say that there is no middle-ground between upstate and downstate New York. They actually share their borders. Many New Yorkers in Northern and Western portions of the state would disagree with this but unfortunately these terms were coined by people in NYC so in a way, they get to define them. Again, these are not actual regions of New York but more of a local vernacular.
It seems like everyone wants to be part of this imaginary “downstate” community so I thought I’d share my reasoning as to why I believe I live downstate. Although I lived on Long Island until the age of five, I have lived in Rockland county for most of my life. A lot of my friends on Long Island maintain the belief that anything northwest of the city is “upstate”. To those friends and anyone else who has never traveled to this “mystical” land west of the Hudson river, I’d say think again. Here are some facts:
- Rockland and Westchester lie within the NYC metropolitan region
- Contrary to popular belief, there are actually plenty of highways and trains over here
- I can get to Manhattan faster than most Long Islanders
- I live further south than 95% of state’s area
- Wikipedia says I’m not upstate
- Wikipedia is always right
So there you have it. I am not an up-stater therefore I am a down-stater.
Regardless of these facts and naming conventions, I really think it’s more important to take pride in the actual region you live in. Once again, upstate and downstate are not “actual” regions of New York. If you don’t know a region in New York other than yours, I suggest you brush up!