As with any large metropolitan area, there are invisible boundaries known only to the denizens of that city. In Manhattan, there are downtown, midtown or uptown designations, but no official borders, so where does each start and end?
The “-town” designations aren’t official districts like SoHo, Chinatowwn or Hell’s Kitchen, the terms can be used directionally (“go uptown on the 5” or “head downtown”) and as catch-alls for larger swaths of the city.
To complicate it some more, the definitions of uptown, midtown and downtown have changed as Manhattan has shifted throughout the years.
The good news is that the definition of “uptown” hasn’t changed in a long time — thanks in large part to Central Park. Heading north, the famous park begins at 59th street and has served as the southern border for “uptown” for decades.
Where Does Midtown Begin?
With uptown’s boundary clearly defined as 59th street, that automatically makes it midtown’s northern border. What is in contention is Midtown’s southern marker: Is it 14th, 23rd or 34th street? The answer depends on who you ask and what decade that person’s primary NYC experience took place.
Having lived in New York for a couple years, I always assumed that 14th street was the start of midtown, but a recent article on Gothamist mentioned that Chelsea and Union Square are both above 14th and most would not consider those neighborhoods as “midtown”:
When I was 14 and commuting to High School from Brooklyn, Stuyvesant was on 15th Street and First Ave, and I had a vague feeling that everything above 14th was “Midtown,” and certainly everything below it was “Downtown.” But 25 years later, having spent a lot of time between 14th and 23rd, I’m not so sure. Union Square is definitely not in Midtown‚ and I think most natives would agree that neither are Chelsea, Gramercy Park, and Stuyvesant Town. So I’m leaning towards saying that in 2015, 23rd Street is the northern border of Downtown.
I’m not an expert by any means, but in my short experience, I would have to agree. Midtown has an association as more of a business/retail district and Chelsea, Gramercy Park and Union Square don’t align with that profile; they’re definitely more downtown.
So with all that said, my mental map is marked up like this: everything below 23rd is considered downtown. From 23rd street to 59th street is solidly midtown, and anything above 59th street is uptown.