Sunday, April 20, 2014

Upstate / Downstate

Location:   New York State
Year:   Always

The Endless Debate

The terms "Upstate" and "Downstate" are unofficial geographic designations in New York State. The terms appear in names (such as "SUNY Downstate Medical Center"), but there's no exact definition of what comprises Upstate and Downstate.

Except that there is. The five boroughs of New York City --- Manhattan (aka New York County), The Bronx (aka Bronx County), Queens (aka Queens County), Staten Island (aka Richmond County) and Brooklyn (aka Kings County) are all considered Downstate along with Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. 

What northern suburbs? You mean like, where they keep the cows?

The problem arises when one considers the northern bounds of Downstate --- for example, some people include Ulster, Sullivan, Dutchess, Putnam and Orange Counties in Downstate because of their geographic proximity to the City. 

Westchester County and Rockland County, just north of The Bronx, were, at one time, rural counties, and arguably Upstate, but the expansion of New York City's northern suburbs make them more akin to Downstate's Nassau and Suffolk.  In some people's eyes.

Westchester and Rockland? Upstate means "UP," you diesel-breathing Urban Cowboys!

Not that "rural" necessarily equates with "Upstate." After all, most of the cities of New York State---Buffalo, Albany, Binghamton, Troy, Schenectady, among many others---lie Upstate. 

And population density isn't quite the defining factor either, since areas of Nassau and Suffolk are still exurban in nature. 

What's with Dutchess?

Oh, vexed New York! This hasn't always been a friendly debate. Insular Upstaters complain mightily about high State taxes that go Downstate, and about being associated with the stiletto-wielding and wearing denizens of the Big City even by name alone. 

Downstate is populous. Of nineteen million New Yorkers, over eight million live in New York City alone. 1.5 million live in Nassau, and another 1.5 million in Suffolk.  Almost a million live in Westchester. Rockland comes in dead last at 300,000. At least thirteen million New Yorkers are Downstaters by this calculus. By comparison, less than seven million people live Upstate in the remaining 53 counties of the State.

Edward Koch, once Mayor of New York City, tanked his gubernatorial campaign by calling Upstaters "hicks." Although every lawyer knows that the veracity of a statement is crucial to its probative value, such musings were not meant to mollify. Under most circumstances Hizzoner might have still won the election, but Downstate he faced Mario Cuomo of Queens, who was popular not only in his home county, but in heavily Italian-American Staten Island (Richmond) and in Nassau.  Koch was forced to split the Downstate vote. And though Upstaters might have either voted for Koch based on name recognition or else typically stayed home in a battle between two boys from NYC, Upstate's eventual anti-Koch vote was so solid that it swept Cuomo into the Governor's chair.  The lesson: You can quietly ignore Upstaters, but don't piss them off.

"How'm I doin'?"

There are Upstate secessionists, who want to break away from the populous cosmopolitan tail that wags the less dynamic dog. Western New Yorkers often fancy themselves Midwestern kinfolk of Buckeyes and Hoosiers. Northeastern New Yorkers tend to consider themselves friends to New Englanders. For that matter, Brooklynites oft give Manhattanites a hearty Bronx Cheer.  So what to do?  What to say?

What's this? An Upstater Acceptability Map? Red for Evil Urbanites, Blue for Untrustworthy Long Islanders, Orange for Sort-of Maybe Upstaters, and Pink (pink?) for Upstaters That Upstaters Don't Want? And where's Sullivan County?

Perhaps the best definition of Upstate versus Downstate has to do with demographics. Areas whose cultural center of gravity is New York City are Downstate. Anyplace else in New York State is Upstate.

Until someone comes up with a better idea, that is.


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