People & Culture
New Yorkers' reputations frequently precede them. In New York City and Long Island they are known for their brash, no-nonsense attitudes. Hudson Valley, Catskills and Finger Lakes dwellers get pegged as earthy progressives, while those who call the north country home are regarded as more conservative. As with all generalizations, these oversimplified labels only scratch the surface of the diverse cultural veins that run through the state.
Immigration into New York began in the 16th and 17th centuries when British, Dutch and French colonists began to explore and develop settlements all over the region. As the state grew in influence and economic prominence over the centuries it attracted those looking for a better life from all over the world. Immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia and central and South America have made New York City one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet, but their cultural impacts are also felt statewide.
City Mouse, Country Mouse
It can be hard to imagine the same state that houses New York City is also home to thousands of acres of farmland and many tiny towns and remote rural communities. More than 40% of the state's population resides in the NYC metropolitan area (and another large chunk is concentrated in Buffalo and Rochester), which leaves the remainder to spread themselves out over tens of thousands of square miles of land. Many areas in the countryside of New York, especially in the northern and western reaches, are very rural and the communities who live there bear little resemblance to the state's urban centers.
There is some ongoing tension between urban and rural communities. Some of it stems from direct conflicts relating to NYC residents buying vacation homes or outright moving to the country and beginning a process of gentrification that has already seen many small villages and towns experience a drastic rise in the cost of living. New York City's large and very concentrated population means it has a huge amount of sway over state politics, which is irksome for those upstate who often feel that their concerns are ignored. Meanwhile, some urbanites bemoan their conservative neighbors, whose values they don't feel are representative of the state as a whole.
LGBT New Yorkers
New York City has long been seen as a safe haven for LGBT people from around the world. The liberal attitudes and diverse economic and cultural offerings fostered the growth of a large population of LGBT folks in the 20th century, especially concentrated in the West Village and Chelsea neighborhoods. HIV/AIDS was a huge blow to this community in the 1980s, but it weathered that storm and today remains a strong driving cultural force both in NYC and around the rest of the state. Several now-popular weekender destinations in the Hudson Valley owe part of their reputation to waves of LGBT home buyers that gradually changed the lay of the land.
Other larger cities – Buffalo and Rochester – have their own longstanding LGBT communities. You'll also find strong representation in other smaller cities and towns, such as Albany and Ithaca.
While parts of New York can seem quite conservative when compared to New York City, the state as a whole has a long history of progressive activism that has shaped attitudes and culture. There are many rural communities where the residents are generally committed to championing issues such as anti-racist and xenophobic activism, LGBT rights, union and workers' rights and environmental issues.
Many newer farms in the state focus on organic, cruelty-free practices, as well as getting more people interested in sustainable and local food. All of this trickles down to culture in a variety of ways. Even small town dives brag about their fresh, locally sourced produce and it's not uncommon to see 'Everyone Welcome Here!' signs on establishments around the state. New Yorkers are generally happy to discuss issues even when there may be disagreements and you won't want for the sight of political lawn signs and bumper stickers while you drive around. It's important to keep in mind that the state's politics are particularly thorny, complicated and prone to corruption on both sides of the political aisle.
Landscape & Environment
New York is one of the largest states in the northeastern United States and within its nearly 55,000 square miles you'll find many stunning natural wonders. Owing to its prominence as an industrial and shipping powerhouse in the 19th and 20th centuries, humankind's own feats of engineering have also played a large role in shaping the geology of the state.
Two mountain ranges define the landscape of upstate New York. In the north, the Adirondacks are a circle of 46 peaks, the highest being Mt Marcy at 5344ft. The fir and spruce forests that cover the slopes provide great coverage for the miles of hiking trails that snake up and down the region. Up in the range you'll find high altitude lakes, frozen solid in the winter and pristine blue in the summer.
To the southwest, the Catskills are known more for the leisure culture that was cultivated in the quaint towns and enormous lodges that dot their slopes. The mountains don't have the same rugged appeal as their larger neighbors to the north; instead you'll find pine-tree-covered hills and valleys cut through with winding seasonal roads perfect for taking in the incredible vistas.
Many of the state's most revered destinations are lakeside. In the center of the state, the long and slender Finger Lakes attract both leisure seekers and wine lovers who come for tours of the region's dozens of vineyards that have found their way onto the slopes of the lake valleys. To the northeast, Lake George is a summer boom town which sees thousands flock to its shores to boat and lounge. Further north, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake are destinations year round, both for warm weather activities and ice skating on the seasonally frozen waters. In the west, New York state borders two of the Great Lakes – Erie and Ontario. Buffalo and Rochester, two of the state's largest cities, sit on their shores. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the lakes were profitable shipping routes that helped turn both cities into industrial powerhouses. Those days are long gone, but residents still take full advantage of the waters they are blessed to live on.
Few feats of engineering in history have matched the scale, scope and eventual influence of the Erie Canal. Originally proposed in the 1780s and eventually finished in 1825, the 363-mile-long canal connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario with the Hudson River, from where ships can continue on to New York Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The canal was a massive factor to not only New York's rise in economic power and influence, but also that of the USA. Throughout the 1800s the course of the canal was altered several times, with the version we can see today being completed in 1918. Although the route is different, the effect is similar – an incredible man-made river that flows right through the heart of the state, connecting cities hundreds of miles inland to the ocean. Commercial traffic isn't as prominent these days. The canal is mostly used as a recreation destination and a fawned over historic site.
One of the first things that will come to most people's minds when they think about New York is Niagara Falls, located on the northwestern border with Canada. The Niagara River feeds 3160 tons of water per second over the 167ft craggy cliff face that gives the falls its unreal presentation. Power generated by the falls made nearby Buffalo the first city in the United States to have electric streetlights, and the 1.2 million gallons of water that flows over the falls a second that is diverted for power still produces 4.9 million kilowatts of electricity. The falls have long been a tourist destination known the world round and have been a popular honeymoon spot since Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of the third Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, had hers in Niagara.
The trajectory of New York's architectural development is deeply rooted in the immigrant communities who have made the state their home and the economic boom that swept through the state after the construction of the Erie Canal in 1825. There are few corners of the state that do not have some kind of architectural claim to fame, and despite the pride surrounding New York's many heritage buildings, exciting new developments in home and commercial design are typically embraced.
Buffalo played a large role in the development of distinctive American architectural styles thanks to the economic prosperity of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The city, which had been carefully planned in the Paris-inspired cyclical avenue style of Washington, DC, by famous city planner Joseph Ellicott, was an early supporter and adopter of the craftsman style home, which grew out of the arts and crafts movement. The design's staple features – organic stone and wood, gabled roofs, exposed beams and overhanging eaves – helped define the city's style. It also makes Buffalo stand out from many other places in the state, which are famous for their Dutch- and Victorian-inspired architecture.
Rochester and Ithaca are two other cities in the state where you'll find a wealth of craftsman-style homes. Rochester's Park Central neighborhood has a particularly high concentration of them. Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps the most famous architect working in the craftsman style, designed several homes that are still standing in and around Buffalo and Rochester.
Art deco is an art and design movement which began in France in the early 20th century and is the style of many of New York City's most iconic buildings, including the Chrysler Building and 30 Rockefeller Plaza. You'll also find examples of the style along the beaches in Brooklyn, where several art deco bathhouses (now only in partial use as public restrooms) sit. The style is notable for its use of concrete to create eye-catching geometric designs that typically lack outright ornamentation. Many office buildings, movie theaters and other public structures from the 1920s and '30s were designed in the style.
There are examples of art deco architecture in the state's other major metropolitan areas, Buffalo and Rochester. Buffalo's intimidating city hall and Rochester's whimsical Times Square Building are two examples of the style's influence across the state.
Some of the earliest colonists in New York were Dutch, who began building homes in the distinct architectural style of their homeland as early as the 1600s. Examples of these early Dutch colonial style buildings, which typically feature Gambrel roofs with flared gables, prominent brick chimneys and Dutch doors (think of the one Snow White sang to her bird friends out of), can often be spotted in the farmlands, especially in the Hudson Valley. There was a revival of this style in the early 20th century and many buildings and churches, especially in New York City, bear its markings.
The trappings of Victorian-era architecture had a huge imprint all over New York. Extraordinary old houses with more spindles and gables than you can shake a roof tile at make up a significant portion of the state's bed and breakfast stock. Vacation and leisure destinations such as Saratoga Springs and Lake George are especially fulsome with them – to this day people make use of the great covered porches in the summertime.
The Ditmas Park neighborhood of New York City is another epicenter of Victorian style. In contrast to the relatively space-conscious rowhouse and high-rise designs found in the rest of the borough, block after block in this south Brooklyn neighborhood feature large homes in the Queen Anne style.