Geography and Origins


New York City is located on the Eastern Atlantic coast of the United States, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The city center resides at the exact location of 40 degrees, 42 minutes, 51 seconds N latitude, and 74 degrees, 0 minutes 23 seconds W longitude.

New York City is made of five boroughs separated by various waterways. Brooklyn and Queens occupy the western portion of Long Island, while Staten Island and Manhattan are compeletely on their own land mass. Bronx, to the north, remains attached to the New York State mainland.

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The island of Manhattan is largely a protrusion of granite, rising a few hundred feet from sea-level. The southern tip and center of the island are virtually solid granite, while areas in Greenwich Village and Chelsea are composed of softer soil. As a result of this geologic arrangement, Manhattan's tallest buildings are located in these two large "rocky" areas.

Manhattan is flanked on its west side by the Hudson River, and on the east side by the Harlem River (on the north) and the East River (on the south).

Manhattan's street layout consists primarily of avenues and streets. The space between avenues is typically much larger than the space between streets (roughly 3x).

  • Avenues run North-South, starting with 1st Avenue on the East Side, and going westward to 12th Avenue.
  • Streets run East-West, starting with 1st Street in Greenwich Village, and increase in value up to 220th Street at the north tip of Manhattan.

General areas in Manhattan

  • Below 1st Street is considered to be the Downtown area of Manhattan
  • 1st to 14th Street contains the general "Village" area. The area west of Broadway is Greenwich Village, and to the east is East Village.
  • 14th to 34th Street west of Broadway is Chelsea, known for its large loft apartments and studios.
  • 34th to 59th Street is generally regarded as "Midtown"
  • 59th to 110th Street contains the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, respectively. Between the two lies the green oasis of Central Park.
  • 110th to 145th Street lies the village of Harlem
  • 145th to 220th Street has no special designation, but does contain the neighborhood of Washington Heights and the Cloisters.


Brooklyn was largely a marshland before it was settled in the late 1600s. The Dutch were the first settlers from the old world to colonize this borough in the 17th century. Although they shared the land with British settlers, the Dutch culture was the dominant one well into the 19th century. When first asked to join New York city as a borough in 1833, Brooklyn refused. Brooklyn, in a close vote, did not decide to become a part of New York City until 1898.

Today, Brooklyn is a borough of many neighborhoods, each with its own strong ethnic flavor. It's very rare to find a New Yorker whose family has been living in America for more than one generation who didn't have an ancestor that lived in Brooklyn at some point in their life.

General areas in Brooklyn

  • Downtown
  • Brooklyn Heights
  • North Brooklyn
  • Institute Park
  • Park Slope and Prospect Park
  • South Brooklyn and Coney Island


The borough of Queens was named after the wife of Charles II of England, Queen Catherine of Braganza in 1683. The area became a borough of New York City in 1898 and rapid economic and physical growth followed the merger. At the beginning of the 17th century, Queens was populated largely by small farms and was predominantly rural. During the 18th century, the area started to experience growth in the area of manufacturing along the shores of the East river. After the merger with New York City the growth that had already begun increased at an ever-increasing rate.

The area has been very popular for new immigrants in the past half of this century and is largely split up into different ethnic neighborhoods that feel very much like the home countries of the people that live there. There are very few inter-racial neighborhoods in Queens and the new immigrants that come to live here tend to congregate in their own areas.

New York's two major airports are located in queens along with a lot of the industry in New York City. Queens is connected physically to Long Island.

General areas in Queens

  • Flushing
  • Corona Park
  • Astoria
  • Long Island City
  • Hunter's Point
  • Jamaica
  • Ridgewood
  • Southern Queens


The Bronx is the home of New York's two greatest landmarks, the Bronx Zoo and Yankee Stadium.

The area was named after the Dutch settler Jonas Bronck, who had claimed the area as his farm back in 1636. The Bronx is the only borough of New York that is physically connected to the mainland of the United States. The borough was largely undeveloped and consisted mostly of cottages, farmlands, and wild marshes until a large swell of Irish and Italian immigrants inhabited the area. Immigrants still come to the Bronx, but today they are Russian and Hispanic.

General areas in the Bronx

  • Van Cortlandt Park
  • Pelham Bay Park
  • South Bronx

Staten Island

The 16th century Florentine explorer Giovanni Da Verrazano is commonly considered to be father of Staten Island because he sailed into New York Harbor in 1524 and landed on the Island. In 1687 the Duke of York offered the island as a prize in a sailing competition which the team from Manhattan won. Since that time, Manhattan has claimed the island as its own. Until 1713, when the first public ferry was started to the island, there was no way to get back and forth unless you had a boat. Finally, in 1964 the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built by Othmar Amman. The bridge made it relatively easy to travel back and forth.

"From the meeting of Lord Howe, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin to the British occupation or the solid defense of the harbor during the Civil War, Staten Island is a place steeped in the annals of history. Great men have inhabited the island. Vanderbilt grew up on the island and Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson both spent much time on the island. They praised the beauty of the landscape, calling Staten Island 'a little piece of the country in the city'." (thanks to James Finn for this Staten Island info)