Manhattan is THE place and will always be so

By Alan S. Chartock | December 9, 2022

New York State is a pretty big place. When we try to figure out the ethos of state as a whole, we surely have to divide it up into smaller pieces. Buffalo is not Manhattan and never will be. The rural counties are a completely different beast than the Big Apple. From Buffalo to Staten Island, there are a lot of little pieces to put together in order to construct the jigsaw puzzle that is New York State. Nevertheless, the biggest, most important part of the whole thing is Manhattan.

Oh, there may be an argument that the pieces could or should be put together in a way that makes sense no matter where you live, but it really doesn’t work that way. Turn on any television program or pick up the New York Times and you’ll be in no doubt that New York means Manhattan. I am sure that there are people who will reject such reasoning out of hand.

For years if you said “Brooklyn” you were talking about a smaller, outlying place within the larger city. When I was a kid growing up, so many years ago, Brooklyn was too often the place where your less well-to-do relatives might have lived. Then many New Yorkers left Manhattan for Brooklyn, once most famous for being the home of the Dodgers, the “Bums.” Brooklyn became a haven for young families and important in a way that I never thought it could or would. Nonetheless, it will never be Manhattan.

I used to think that the Bronx might eventually be the next most important New York City place after Manhattan. I went to what was then Hunter College in the Bronx (now Lehman College) and I used to think that the Bronx would turn into a sort of second-rate Manhattan. Unfortunately, that was not to be. I would get on the subway for my daily ride to Hunter in the Bronx and I could smell the disconnect between the Bronx and Manhattan. Oh, there are places in the Bronx, like Riverdale along the Hudson River, that are pretty impressive, filled with wealth and too often pretentious occupants.

As a Manhattanite, I lived in “The City.” My other-borough friends would quite frequently tell their parents, “I’m going to the City to visit Chartock.” “The City,” of course, meant Manhattan. Since most of the important places in New York were to be found in Manhattan – the big law firms, Wall Street, the museums, the Library, the music venues and all the rest — the other boroughs just couldn’t hold a candle to “The City.” There is nothing like Greenwich Village in the other boroughs. You might refer to parks in Brooklyn and the Bronx to make a case for geographic equality. Nonsense, of course. Central Park is unequaled among all the park places in New York. Yes, there may be too much crime in that expanse but Prospect Park in Brooklyn is hardly worth the comparison.

I grew up on 96th Street in Manhattan. It was one of those wide through streets that traversed Central Park. Like 86th and other through streets, it had those big crosstown buses that would shift into second gear directly in front of my apartment building and that is probably the reason why I spent my entire life trying in vain to sleep through the night.

Manhattan is New York. I once had a girlfriend who lived in Forest Hills, Queens. I think that she and her parents thought that Forest Hills had a special place in New York City nomenclature. But, let me tell you, Queens and the Bronx and Brooklyn will never be able to kiss the feet of Manhattan and all those museums on Fifth Avenue.

Nope, Manhattan is THE place and will always be so.


Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].