OK so I was tipped off to contemplating this phenomenon – where is the geographic center of the five boroughs of New York City? – when someone passingly mentioned needing a convergence spot later this year for a project I’m involved with. I had considered this question before, but never with such tools-precision or concern for logistics – planning for something takes a lot more strategy than simply thinking about something.
I did some googling and of course there are other sources that have drilled down into the subject, from news sites to blogs like this one. For starters there’s this New York Times article from nearly 11 years ago (seek to the final Q&A for the relevant text). It makes an interesting distinction between the population center and the geographic center – noted as “on Stockholm Streetbetween [sic] Wyckoff Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue.” Basically in front of the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick, just off the Dekalb L, a few hundred feet from the Queens border. That article says its finding was based on “the Department of City Planning.” Sure sure. (Years later the DoT marker would be placed a couple hundred feet away – still in Bushwick.)
Fast-forward a year and you get this Gothamist article referencing some Wired article about ‘the Googlecenter of America’ which has since expired on their website, and the search on their site doesn’t help either. The Gothamist article concludes mentioning the time-code coordinates – 40 degrees, 42 minutes, 51 seconds N latitude, and 74 degrees, 0 minutes 23 seconds W longitude – for “the actual geographic center” as declared by NY.com, a website founded mere days after the founding of “WWW software” and apparently never updated since then either.
I typed in the coordinates in Google Maps to confirm, and this is what you get:
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m suspicious. That’s too darn convenient. I don’t believe it.
At this point I should disclose that when I had my initial impulse, I did have an idea about where the center would be. In my findings below I actually prove my theory; I didn’t set out to do this, and the tools that I use are at your disposal too, so you are free to toy with them as did I, or even propose your own models for point-plotting (I offer two approaches below).
My first theory was to simply take a screenshot from Google Maps and draw a crosshair in the middle, which produces this:
The center is clearly not in Bushwick. However this approach has a few flaws. The outline is based on where Google Maps draws the outline of the land boundaries of “NYC” but leaves a lot to be desired. Resolution at this scale is not much greater than NY.com’s 1994 GIF-map, which is only to say a few pixels off at the top or right or wherever and your center is thrown off considerably. But there’s an even greater fallacy at work here: this approach only takes into consideration the land masses of the five boroughs, when their County boundaries include creeks, rivers, bays, and even oceans! New York City is after all a city of islands, and that means water.
(The flat-map approach also doesn’t account for the curvature of the earth, simple long-lat coordinates. Now this is where things get interesting.)
I guess you could also do the same thing with Google Maps where you simply screenshot the tiles of the County boundaries (but again, that’s a flat-map approach), however knowing that the Internet is a wonderful place full of people who care a lot, I stumbled upon this website which purports to find “the exact point that lies halfway between two or more places.” Everything I’m going to show below means trusting their code, which I do.
OK start wherever you want. I went with Staten Island since it’s the city’s neglected borough – I wanted to show it some love. (Also because it contains two cardinal points relatively close to each other.)
The furthest point south is here:
The furthest point west is here:
This immediately creates a south-west midway marker:
That looks good. Now to plot the north and east points.
The eastern marker falls here (a few pixels to the right and you’re in New Hyde Park in Nassau County):
The following is the north marker, and just to clarify how I did this I’ve supplied two images, showing the county outline at approximately 13.78z level zoom in Google Maps, and then the marker as placed by my cursor over the supposed limit:
And the results?
As suspected, the midway point is actually … on the water!
Zooming in with four markers placed – north, south, east, west (really what else is there?) – you can see the marker is clearly not on Brooklyn and most-definitely not in Bushwick! Sunset Park and Red Hook have more in common with the geographic center of the five boroughs than Bushwick:
The saga continues!
Now just because I already had the map software running, and because it quite quickly locates the midway marker for many multiple points, I was curious what the geographic center of the cardinal points of all five individual boroughs would be. In other words, north, south, east, west markers placed for each individual County. The result is actually 19 points, not 20, as Bronx County’s westernmost point is also the borough of Manhattan’s northernmost point. This is the map result:
Those are in essence the territorial limits of the five boroughs of New York City. You can see the map render for yourself, here.
I’m happy to hear your thoughts on either of these approaches. Where is your geographic center? Have you ever been to one of the most outer-limit points, or walked the perimeter? How – and why – do you explore the boroughs?