Culture Clash: What is Upstate New York?



Many New Yorkers have attempted to delineate the regional borders of New York state.

Isabella Ledet, Staff Writer

Many students at Villanova come from the surrounding areas: Pennsylvania, New Jersey or New York. However, despite the University’s close proximity to the state of New York, many people do not know what Upstate New York even is.

Sure, an iconic city of around 8.5 million people takes the forefront of everyone’s minds when they think of “New York.” But by area, New York City is only around 0.5% of the state of New York. So, where does Upstate begin? And why is Upstate important?

There are six divisions of New York State. Contrary to popular belief, Upstate is not just the part of New York that is not NYC. In terms of the division of New York state, my opinion is the same as that of a popular Instagram meme account, UpstateNYMemes. The account took a map of all of the counties of New York and divided it into the six regions: Western, Central, Upstate, Downstate, NYC and Long Island. 

When I tell people that I am from Albany, most people living north of the city will tell me the part of New York that they are from as if it is closely related to Albany.

“Upstate New York is anything upstate of Westchester, not including Westchester,” senior Dan Mezzalingua from Syracuse said.

“I would say anything above Kingston is upstate, but I have to emphasize Westchester is not upstate,” sophomore Grace Giombetti from Albany agreed.

Both Kingston and Westchester are Downstate, which is the part of the state between the city and Upstate.

“People confuse Upstate with Central and Western NY, which are both very different from Upstate,” Giombetti said. 

This leads to the mislabeling of Syracuse, Rochester and even Buffalo. Syracuse is located in the very heart of Central New York, which is west of Upstate. Rochester is so far west that it is essentially Western New York. And then Buffalo, which is the major hub of Western New York. Albany keeps a safe distance from the Bills Mafia.

Now that the exact definition of Upstate has been established, the second question that I have posed becomes the one more difficult to defend. How is Upstate important? Politically, New York is by no means a swing state. In elections, it is reliably “blue.” However, most of this is due exclusively to the city since its population is so high. NYC is only 0.5% of the state by area, as I mentioned above, but it is around 43% of the state’s population. Looking at the individual counties in New York, many of them were surprisingly “red” in the 2020 Presidential Election. Even though these counties are small and cannot compare to the population significance of NYC, it is worth noting that New York is not as unified as it may appear, especially shown by its geography. In fact, for this year’s election, many counties have been redrawn altogether.

I would like to argue that Upstate New York, though its exact definition is widely disputed, is highly important. It contains the capital, the largest publicly protected natural area in the United States, touches Canada and much more. Despite NYC’s high population and international renown, the capital of New York state is Albany, right in the heart of Upstate. I got to go to the New York State museum, the Governor’s Mansion and the capitol building on field trips growing up. Though Albany is a small city (its skyline has literally a singular skyscraper), it is still the capital of an impressive and important state, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to grow up in a capital city. In addition, the Adirondack Park is part of Upstate. The Adirondack Park is six million acres of protected land, containing the 46 High Peaks and more than 3,000 lakes and ponds. Autumn in the Adirondacks is breathtaking.

Next time one thinks about “New York,” I urge them to take a moment to consider what is beyond the city. It is 99.5% of the state, in fact.