Recently, the West Side Rag carried a story about a priest who has been charged with sex abuse at a church on the “Upper West Side,” the area the publication claims to be about. The story elicited comments that would not have occurred in the big daily papers.
The church is at 114th and Morningside Drive. Whoa..Stop the presses. That’s not the Upper West Side. Reader number one points out what everyone knows – the UWS does not extend north of 110th. Number two expands on this. The UWS is bounded by the Hudson River, Central Park, 110th, and 59th. Number three opines that some people consider the southern border to be 72nd not 59th.. Further on in the discussion, a woman declares that the important point – sex abuse – was being overlooked. She was right, of course, but that other concern is important too.
Donald Trump calls up questions about the nature of reality in a way that is of grave importance to the future of democracy. To a smaller extent, so does the question of proper boundaries of the Upper West Side. So far as I know, there is no statutory or legal definition of the UWS or, for that matter, of Midtown or Lower Manhattan or uptown or downtown or many other geographic areas familiar to New Yorkers. They are nonetheless real. I doubt it would be possible to function fully in these parts without a sense of where they are and what they are like.
To my knowledge, no one has ever actually seen a unicorn. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. People have been drawing pictures of them since before crayons were invented. This doesn’t hurt anything. And take the British constitution. No one has ever seen it, but it’s the controlling document of British life. Has been for a long time. Belief in it is a force for good. That sort of thinking does not always result in desirable outcomes, of course. Take, for example, the QAnon construct that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex trafficking ring in a pizza joint.
I am something of an expert on the matter of New York’s major geographic constructs.
I began boning up on this when I lived in Brooklyn – first in Prospect Heights, then in Park Slope. When Ann told a colleague who had grown up in Brooklyn, that we lived in Park Slope, he said, “That’s not Brooklyn.” I think he meant it was not rough, dangerous, and gritty enough to qualify as Brooklyn. According to those criteria, Prospect Heights, where Ann was mugged on our stoop at noon on a Saturday, probably does qualify as Brooklyn.
I’ve also lived in Midtown Manhattan (Chelsea to be precise). Chelsea is generally understood to be located on the west side and to extend several blocks north and south of W. 23rd Street. It’s also understood to be the neighborhood that some years ago was overrun by people who could no longer afford Greenwich Village.
I’ve lived in the Bronx (Riverdale to be precise). Just as Park Slope is not Brooklyn, Riverdale is not the Bronx.
The UWS apartment on Riverside Drive where Ann and I live now is the third one we’ve lived in on that street. And for ten years, we lived a few blocks to the east. As a result, I have a deep sense – my lapsed Texan identity notwithstanding – of what “Upper West Side” means, and enough sense of what those other terms mean to be able to get around in Gotham and – usually – to know where I am.
While thinking about New York neighborhoods and the nature of reality, I looked up some verifiable facts about the city.
The land area of Manhattan is 22.82 square miles.
Manhattan is 13.4 miles long and 2.4 miles wide at its widest, which is at 14th Street.
The Hudson River averages .6 miles in width for five miles north from Battery Park.
It is dredged to maintain a minimum depth of thirty feet all the way to Troy.
In The Great Saunter, an annual event put on by a group called The Shorewalkers, people walk the thirty-two mile circumference of Manhattan Island. It seemed longer to me.