Downtown - Relative Geographical Use

Relative Geographical Use

The terms downtown and uptown can refer to cardinal directions, for example, in Manhattan, where downtown is also a relative geographical term. Anything south of where the speaker is currently standing, in most places, is said to be downtown. Anything north of the speaker is uptown. In the common New York City phrase, "We're going to take the subway downtown," downtown refers to traveling in the geographic direction of south. A person standing on 121st Street and walking ten blocks south could also be said to have walked ten blocks downtown. The term uptown is used to refer to the cardinal direction north.

Such concepts derive from Manhattan's elongated shape, running roughly north/south and nowhere more than 2 mi (3.2 km) wide. As such, most of the train service and major thoroughfares on the island travel in the uptown/downtown directions. The other boroughs are wider, and "downtown" there refers to Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, or some more local business district. Mercantile efforts to promote the South Bronx as "Downtown Bronx" have met with little success.

Manhattan exceptions to the equation of "downtown" with "south" include Cherry Street and nearby parts of the Lower East Side, where downtown is westward towards City Hall, while south on Montgomery Street is not called downtown since it runs into the East River.

In some North American cities, downtown is the formal name of the neighborhood in which the city's central business district is located. Most major North American cities are located on major bodies of water, like oceans, lakes, and rivers. As cities expanded, people built further away from the water and their historical cores, often uphill. Thus the central business district of a North American city, or the historical core of the city, is often the "down" part of the city. Many cities use the Manhattan model and continue to use downtown, midtown, and uptown both as informal relative geographical terms and as formal names for distinct districts.

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