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NATIVE | Blurred Lines: Flexible States of Mind

NATIVE | Blurred Lines: Flexible States of Mind

Edited November 29, 2017.

There is no singular “New York State of Mind.” Does it surprise you?! Let it delight you instead; after all, it’s who we are. That's why each month New York Makers features a different New York State of Mind theme. 

I smiled when I received a note from a treasured friend, a longtime New Yorker, that reminded me of the dialogues we hope New York States of Mind (NYSOM), now called New York Makers, will encourage. This friend, who lives in Syracuse, gently took us to task for the way we have defined and labeled the New York regions we use on New York Makers, suggesting a “Downstate” versus “Upstate” perspective on our part. If only he knew how much we have struggled and debate still with this one, and how many different perspectives we consulted — including groupings and nomenclature used by State and local governments, as well as friends in, yes, Syracuse, along with Buffalo, Rochester, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs, the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, Long Island, Westchester and elsewhere — before we settled on the 12 regions and names we use for New York Makers.

Our survey made clear that, crazy as it seems, there is actually no agreed grouping for the geographic areas contained either in the number of statewide regions, their geographic scope or their names. For example, as my friend points out, “the City of Syracuse is generally viewed as part of ‘Central New York,’ and not in the Finger Lakes region (although the western third of Onondaga County is definitely in the Finger Lakes). Further, the words ‘Central New York’ typically are not used to describe the area east of Madison County; that’s either the ‘Mohawk Valley’ or ‘Leatherstocking’ region. Also, it’s interesting that there is no ‘North County’ on the map; my impression is that there is fairly strong regional self-association with that name.”

He goes on to say, “I wonder if it is the intention of New York States of Mind [New York Makers] to break the mold by redefining the boundaries of some regions a bit and using familiar names in new ways? ... Embracing the opportunity to break old molds, I wonder if there might be a way to make the boundaries between the regions fuzzier or maybe overlapping, which would allow for the possibility of that a ‘Finger Lakes’ state of mind could extend beyond the boundaries that typically are drawn on a map based on municipal boundaries?”

In a separate exchange, we discovered that one person’s Hudson Valley could be another’s Catskills. A friend in Newburgh responded to the tricky matter of how to categorize Greene, Ulster and Orange counties by saying: “All three border the Hudson River but only Ulster and Greene include portions within the Catskills Park. Orange borders the Hudson River on the east and the Delaware River on [the] west. So this is tricky business. I tend to agree [they are part of the Hudson Valley], though I think most people would think of Greene in the Catskill region with Ulster in between and Orange definitely Hudson Valley.”

As you can see, even residents struggle to define their own regions. With that in mind, we love the idea of making the regional boundaries “fuzzy,” or possibly overlapping and using different labels. At present, our constraints are practical. We have regional writers from whom we get discerning on-the-ground stories and need to give them parameters within which to work; and our viewers want to be able to navigate the site to find those stories, links and other information. It would be confusing, for example, to expect non-resident readers to search in multiple regions to find out information relating to a single county.

In addition, web designers may be wizards, but they do not yet have the tools to build navigable ‘overlapping’ maps (at least not on our startup budget!) — though we have no doubt they will one day, when we hope we will be able to better afford them. For now, we welcome you to tell us the labels you prefer for the regions we have published. In addition, let us know how you view the regions of the State. We are counting on you to help us identify all the possible variations.

My friend’s note called out his perspective, “I like to think that I still have a New York City state of mind, but after 29 years in Syracuse, I definitely have come to have an Upstate State of Mind.” We love it. Let us know yours.


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