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Upstate New York vs. Downstate New York

one student settles the ongoing debate between upstate and downstate


The age-old question of how to define the upstate-downstate boundaries has plagued many friendships and families for too long. I am here to resolve the dispute.

Buffalo is upstate. It’s so upstate, it’s almost Canada.

Why? Because New York City is by far the most important city and what most people think of when they hear “New York.” Now look at a map. Find New York City. Now look for Buffalo. You will find that you have to look up the state to find Buffalo.

Or think of altitude. Long Island is an island – very low maximum altitude. The same with New York City – generally flat. As you go more and more northern (up) into upstate New York, the altitude begins to increase. It literally goes up.

Geographically, Buffalo is upstate.

Disagree? Let’s discuss!

New York was founded when the Dutch gave up Manhattan to England in 1664. The beginning of modern New York State started then. The state started around New York City. Because the state continued to expand in an upstate-like motion, pretty much everything above New York City was upstate.

Historically, Buffalo is upstate.

Now, let’s look at the beloved Erie Canal!

The canal was built as a way to ship goods from New York City all the way up (state) to Buffalo. The canal ran from Albany, which is also upstate, through Syracuse and Rochester, Buffalo’s upstate sister cities, all the way through Buffalo into Lake Erie. Great stuff for upstate New York!

But how does this help my point?

To get to Buffalo, ships had to literally sail up the Hudson River, up the state of New York. Going up brought you to upstate New York.

Nautically, Buffalo is upstate.

The whole Western New York region point is moot in this argument. It isn’t a debate between upstate, downstate and western New York. It is a debate between up or down, not left or right.

Then what exactly is considered downstate and where does it end?

Long Island is downstate. No one could argue anything different. New York City is most definitely downstate as well.

Once you leave New York City, things get a little more unclear. Westchester and Rockland County often get included as downstate. Once you get into Putnam and Orange County, it’s up for debate.

Let’s make this easy.

If you can make a daily commute to New York City, you’re downstate. This brings in Putnam and Orange County. Congrats! You’re downstate!

Albany is an odd city in this scenario. While it is most certainly upstate geographically, due to the New York City-orientated politics of the state, it culturally has similarities with downstate so I could see why some many consider it downstate.

Don’t be fooled. It’s upstate.

So, there it is. While Buffalo is in Western New York, Western New York is in Upstate New York.

Just remember, if you couldn’t reasonably go to New York City every day, you’re in Upstate New York.

I look forward to your angry emails.

Dan McKeon is a features editor and can be reached at dan.mckeon@ubspectrum.com


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