Updown vs.Downtown
March 19, 2012 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Need an explaination regarding NYC only. Uptown vs. downtown!

Can someone explain the difference in the climate/culture/neighborhoods of uptown vs. downtown in NYC. I have visited many times and think all of Manhattan is wonderful. Thanking you in advance.
posted by pamspanda to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Every neighborhood has its own climate/culture; not sure you can sum up all of Manhattan in an "uptown vs. downtown" categorization.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:50 AM on March 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I agree with TPS, but I'd also add a lot of the uptown/downtown received wisdom on cultural matters is stuck in a time very very different from today, so you may not really feel it when you come here to visit.
posted by JPD at 6:57 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, every neighborhood is different. Looking at downtown -- below 14th St. -- you have, for instance, the Financial District, the East Village and Chinatown, all of which are as different from one another as they would be from the Upper East Side, for instance.
posted by griphus at 7:03 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think in the past "uptown" (as in Upper East and West Sides) was considered most upscale and "downtown" (East/West Villages, Lower East Side) was considered more bohemian/artsy. But now pretty much everything is fancy; and as others have said, the borough differs by neighborhood, not so much by uptown vs downtown.
posted by mlle valentine at 7:10 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Upper East Side: money.
Upper West Side: money + crazy old cat ladies + Zabar's.
Downtown: money + youth.
Too far downtown: money, until 5pm.

Is that what you're looking for?
posted by thejoshu at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2012 [19 favorites]


Extreme generalization: uptown is fancy, downtown is gritty.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2012


I'm with mlle valentine: things like fashion mags will sometimes still use "uptown" as code for "ritzy and a little staid" and "downtown" as code for "edgy and bohemian," even if those terms are outdated and probably never made a lot of sense.
posted by craichead at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think thejoshu pretty much has it. I'd add that, in 21st-century New York, nearly all of Manhattan south of 96th Street = money. There are pockets of exceptions, but only that. It still varies a lot by neighborhood, though.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everyone is pretty much right but you have to remember that it depends on who you are talking to. For some people uptown does not mean UWS but Harlem.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:00 AM on March 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the late 1800s through maybe the 1970s, much of downtown Manhattan (excluding the financial district) was dominated by working-class and bohemian-type culture: Little Ialy, Chinatown, the Lower East Side were largely places where immigrants were crammed into crowded housing and worked in sweatshops, factories, warehouses, and cheap eateries, while Union Square and the Village were artists, labor unions, and intellectuals (the 1932 film Call Her Savage has Clara Bow going "slumming" to a gay anarchist club in the Village, for example).

Uptown, by contrast, was where Central Park, Carnegie Hall, the great museums, and the mansion-lined blocks of 5th Ave and Park Ave were. Lots of people who worked in the Financial District had their homes uptown.

Obviously, there were lots of exceptions, and there were (and still are) mansions downtown and tenement blocks uptown, but this is the general lay of the land. (Manhattan ended at 125th street for white people; even though Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood are all above the Upper East/West sides, calling Harlem "uptown" was done somewhat ironically in the 20th century.)
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:00 AM on March 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Manhattan ended at 125th street for white people; even though Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood are all above the Upper East/West sides, calling Harlem "uptown" was done somewhat ironically in the 20th century.)
I don't think that's true: Washington Heights would have been considered a majority-white neighborhood until the 1960s, and Inwood probably until later than that. It may very well be true that those neighborhoods didn't really register with the people who coined the "uptown" and "downtown" terminology, though.
posted by craichead at 8:17 AM on March 19, 2012


As a young person in the mid-90s, downtown (below 14th street) felt like another world to me: exciting, sexual, strange. A big part of it had to do I guess with the sight of openly-gay people, which had some force to it back then before the mainstream caught up. There were also the extreme fashions of people's clothes and the decor of the bars and restaurants: avant garde to the point of being menacing . Then there was the physical strangeness of the streets themselves: pockets of cobblestone or of private houses, things that were out-of-place in New York. It was a nighttime world. I don't have any particular memories of that part of the city in daylight.
posted by Paquda at 8:22 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


When Billy Joel sang of Uptown Girl, you know what he had in mind.
and recall the song, Downtown ?
posted by Postroad at 9:03 AM on March 19, 2012


According to wikipedia, the song "Downtown" is actually about Midtown!
posted by craichead at 9:07 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gross generalization, but alarmingly accurate (true) when it comes to the people inhabiting these 2 sections:

Uptown: cerebral
Downtown: hedonistic

(Those who are very familiar with the city, apply these 2 descriptions for each of the neighborhoods)
posted by Kruger5 at 9:20 AM on March 19, 2012


(Manhattan ended at 125th street for white people; even though Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood are all above the Upper East/West sides, calling Harlem "uptown" was done somewhat ironically in the 20th century.)
I don't think that's true: Washington Heights would have been considered a majority-white neighborhood until the 1960s, and Inwood probably until later than that. It may very well be true that those neighborhoods didn't really register with the people who coined the "uptown" and "downtown" terminology, though.


Harlem, however, starts well below 125th street. And while the black Harlem is the best known today, the 1939 WPA Guide to New York City talks about the three Harlems: "Negro Harlem, Spanish Harlem, and Italian Harlem."

The most famous remaining part of Italian Harlem today is probably Rao's.
posted by Jahaza at 9:29 AM on March 19, 2012


It's a complicated kind of question.

Typically when people say "Downtown" they're talking about below 14th Street (but not including the Financial District or Battery Park City). This includes the West and East Villages, the Lower East Side, TriBeCa, and SoHo. Chinatown is also not generally-speaking what people mean when they say "Downtown." More specifically, when people are contrasting it with "Uptown," what they really mean by "Downtown" is the stratum between 14th Street and Houston Street. As Jon_Evil points out, this is an area that has historically been known for Bohemian culture. The presence of NYU students in the East Village and the continuation of ersatz punk culture in St. Marks and Lower East Side area (which not all that long ago was the dangerously drug-filled "Alphabet City") has acted to keep some amount of "alternative" flavor down there. The West Village is now a good bit more staid, and the extent to which it has any "alternative" culture has radically declined over the past 20 years along with the presence of gay culture there. So, effectively, we're talking about the East Village and the Lower East Side. 99% of the time when I hear the old "I never go north of 14th Street" meme, it's someone who is white and educated and likes to hang out in the general vicinity of St. Marks because they think it's hip and "edgy." Much of Downtown is repurposed tenements, factories and warehouses, which adds greatly to the flavor.

"Uptown" can mean a lot of things, depending on who you're talking to. If you're talking to a 20something with full sleeve tattoos it probably means anything north of 14th Street, but effectively means the Upper West and Upper East Sides (since Midtown doesn't really have a residential culture to speak of). Both these neighborhoods are significantly more "upscale/residential/establishment" in their various ways, not least because they haven't been home to either tenements, factories or warehouses in the last 100+ years. These are residential neighborhoods that have been residential neighborhoods for a long time, and this is where most of the large cultural institutions are. There is not much "alt culture" on the Upper West and Upper East Sides, and not much 20something culture to speak of (that doesn't really get started again until Columbia). To make a large generality, the UWS is liberal intellectuals while the UES is conservative establishment. Historically speaking, "Uptown" went from 59th Street to the top of Central Park.

On the other hand, for most African-Americans, "uptown" means Harlem (although historically this would have been called "Upper Manhattan"). This doesn't mean that the UWS and UES are "downtown" -- just that they're not "uptown" in this paradigm. Which is to say that, if you tell one of your African-American friends you're going to be going out for dinner "uptown" they're probably thinking 125th Street rather than 75th Street. As one might imagine, this area of the city can be significantly more gritty than anything downtown except perhaps for the dankest corners of Chinatown (although there are areas of Harlem that are now really very, very nice). This grittiness, however, is not of the sort that would appeal to the typical fan of downtown. There are not so many independent coffee shops, swanky little vegan restaurants, faux speakeasies, etc. Rather than evoking long ago Jewish and Irish ghettos now replaced by 20somethings and alt types, Harlem represents much more recent (and in many cases, still ongoing) African-American ghettos where the hallmarks of poverty are still visible. Perhaps there will be a day when artists and wannabe Bohemians will revitalize some of the broken window neighborhoods in East Harlem, but it was a lot easier to just cross the river into Brooklyn and that seems to be what's happened.

Above Harlem, there's Washington Heights and Inwood. These neighborhoods are still considered "Upper Manhattan" and generally not considered "Uptown."
posted by slkinsey at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


(since Midtown doesn't really have a residential culture to speak of)
Hmm. Is Chelsea downtown? There are definitely residential neighborhoods in Midtown, Hell's Kitchen being the one I know best, but I think they're also a little invisible to the people who use this terminology.
posted by craichead at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2012


Yeah and there have always been residential areas in midtown east. Its just an easy generalization that midtown isn't residential.

(though Chelsea is downtown in mindset to me)
posted by JPD at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2012


Hell's Kitchen (aka "midtown west") has always been a residential area as well.
posted by nicwolff at 11:57 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right. I was thinking more of the business areas. Chelsea/Hell's Kitchen have residential aspects, as do Kips Bay/Murray Hill on the east. But I don't see either has having much in the way of easily understood residential culture (except I suppose that Chelsea was "gay West Village in exile" for the 30something set for a while). Hell's Kitchen certainly used to have an easily understood residential culture, but I think that Hell's Kitchen has been largely gone for a while and now it's sort of a "West Village North/Upper West Side South" combination -- you won't be seeing the Jets and Sharks anywhere. As craichead says, they're a little invisible to people using "Uptown/Downtown" terminology.
posted by slkinsey at 12:40 PM on March 19, 2012


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