So Where Does “Upstate” New York Really Begin?

Lake Placid, NY | Photo by Frank Setlak

While many believe Westchester to be part of upstate New York, the truth is a bit more complex. Here’s the upstate-downstate breakdown.

One of Westchester residents’ greatest pet peeves, besides traffic on I-287, gained momentum during the pandemic. It involves New York City residents referring to our county as “upstate,” which they did increasingly as they sought to escape the COVID-riddled city and relocate to places like Westchester.

But is Westchester actually upstate? It’d be interesting to hear what residents of Oswego, Lake Placid, or Albany might say.

Big Apple residents “tend to be very New York-centric,” says Steve Hanon, president of the New York Map Society, referring to the famed Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover showing a few Manhattan streets occupying much of the frame and the rest of the world squeezed into a sliver. “Anything that’s not the city can be given short shrift.”

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Lake Placid, NY | Photo by Frank Setlak

A giant chunk of the state’s 20 million people, around 8.3 million, live in New York City. Map experts note that Westchester residents get New York City-based TV stations and commute to the city on a regular basis. “The suburbs are mostly considered part of the city [region],” says Michael Peterson, a professor of geography at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who earned his PhD in Buffalo and has a daughter in Ossining.

So where does the upstate line fall? Urban Dictionary says Albany is “barely on the edge” of upstate. Hanon sets the line along I-88, which connects Schenectady to Binghamton.

Peterson puts it at the Northern Westchester and Rockland borders. So does Mark Monmonier, distinguished professor emeritus of geography at Syracuse University. He mentions late-night host Stephen Colbert, who invented the concept of “truthiness,” suggesting different levels of being factual.

“Stephen might say something like ‘upstatedness,’” says Monmonier. “Westchester County has a relatively low degree of upstatedness. Dutchess has more upstatedness. Albany has a considerably high level of upstatedness.”

Catskills upstate
Catskills, NY | Photo by Dan Leibel

Here’s the thing: Virtually any map you look at of what’s called the New York metropolitan area, ranging from Wikipedia to the Library of Congress, places Westchester (as well as Long Island and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut) squarely within it. In fact, the NY-metro region is the largest metropolitan area in the world in terms of urban landmass. So, you may ask, how can something be considered up-state if it’s officially recognized as part of downstate’s urban territory? Perhaps the answer is we’re not upstate — we’re just up-city.

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