The border between upstate and downstate New York

Upstate vs. Downstate New York – Where are They?

Upstate and Downstate NY to an out-of-stater (and central New Yorkers).

Upstate and Downstate NY to an out-of-stater (and central New Yorkers).

Where exactly is “Upstate New York”? Where does “Downstate New York” 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 well defined regions in New York that we are talking about but more of a way of life or state of mind (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 arguments 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.

Upstate 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.

Downstate New York to a Long Island or New York City resident.

“Downstate” NY to Long Island and New York City residents.

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.

There is no “Downstate New York”

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.

Defining Downstate New York

Regions of New York in common vernacular.

Regions of New York in common vernacular. –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.

A Borderline New Yorker’s Opinion

Rockland & Westchester counties lie within the NYC metro.

Rockland & Westchester counties lie within the NYC metro.

Driving time from central Long Island to downtown NYC.

Driving time from central Long Island to downtown NYC. -57min with no traffic. There’s always traffic.

Driving time from central Rockland to downtown NYC. -48min with no traffic

Driving time from central Rockland to downtown NYC. -48min with no traffic. No traffic during the day or at night.

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 counties 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!


10 Responses to “Upstate vs. Downstate New York – Where are They?”

  1. NYSucks

    Who says the last map shows the REAL regions? Albany? I’m not sure that’s much of an authority to begin with. There IS a downstate and an upstate; let’s start putting state border signs above Rockland and Westchester.



    The New York Metropolitan Area (NYMA) includes: Bronx County, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York County (Manhattan), Queens County, Richmond County (Staten Island), Suffolk County, Nassau County, Westchester County and Rockland County. The other 53 counties in NYS are outside the NYMA.

    What fees do motorists pay for the NYVIP inspection?
    In the Upstate Area, the total fee for a NYVIP safety and OBDII emissions inspection is $21. In the NYMA, the total fee for a NYVIP safety and OBDII emissions inspection is $37.
    Statewide, the total fee for a NYVIP safety and low-enhanced emissions inspection is $21.

  3. Mjc of hc

    Thak you so much . I live in putnam and am proud of being nonfarm rural . I am also very defenise about any link to the city . So if was a big relief to know that putnam isn’t downstate.

  4. lifelong LIer (east end) everything west of Suffolk is “up west” and everything not LI or NYC is upstate. Always was, always will be (from LI perspective), although I do know people who live in Westchester believe they are NOT upstate. I don’t know why it would be a good or bad thing to be up or down. I guess they want to be part of NYC, even though they are not. If Westchester were one of the 5 boroughs then yes. LI just happens to be NOT upstate because, well, it’s not – it’s in alignment with NYC and the only way to drive off is NYC. Really had nothing to do with culture….LI is nothing like NYC and residents (at least those born on LI) don’t want LI to be anything like NYC – many of us enjoy visiting NYC but we wouldn’t want to live there. lt is what it is.

  5. Keith Anselm

    As someone who has lived in Rochester and Buffalo – we usually think of anything that’s not north of or west of Albany as “downstate”. Yes, this means that “Cobleskill” is downstate.

  6. It’s funny that @Laine brought up that “LI is nothing like NYC and residents don’t want LI to be anything like NYC” however for people in Westchester, since they are aware that they’re not Upstate, that automatically means they want to be part of the city? That doesn’t make sense lol. Also, this is a way I see it (as a native Westchester/Yonkers born) if we can’t say NYC and Long Island are the same thing since they’re the only things “downstate”, how you gonna say everything else about the city is “upstate” when they definitely are not all the same. And you can’t even argure “well, duh, that’s why it’s NYC, LI and then upstate” cause that also doesn’t make sense. How can you have an upstate without a downstate? It’s like the Carolinas, you can’t have a North Carolina without a South Carolina. If there is an upstate, there has to be a downstate and if you can’t agree that NYC and LI are basically the same thing, you can’t say everything above the city is basically upstate. I’m personally in favor of the final map, or I’ll even settle for for the statement from the dmv

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>