|Land Area:||22.8 sq miles|
Although Manhattan is the smallest of the five boroughs in terms of land area and only the third on the list population-wise (well behind Brooklyn and Queens), it is undisputably the city's center and thus the site of New York's social, financial and political power. If only for this reason, many newcomers to the city aspire to live in Manhattan.
Downtown neighborhoods, many of which were laid out in the pre-grid days of yore, are a varied bunch: from the skyscrapers of the Financial District to the quaint row houses of the West Village, the area runs the gamut of architectural styles from different eras. Consequently, Downtown offers most types of housing you'll find elsewhere in New York (except for the detached suburban-style mansion type). You can choose to live in a converted office or bank headquarters (especially in the Financial District), a former warehouse or industrial loft (SoHo and TriBeCa), a charming row house (the West Village and the Central Village), a modern skyscraper (the Financial District and Battery Park City), a luxury townhouse, a drab 1980s multi-apartment building (the Central Village and East Village have a few), an early 20th century "tenement" building, or even a mid-20th century housing project (the Alphabet City and the Lower East Side; although the wait period for available apartments in such housing can be substantial).
Demographically, Downtown tends to be younger and more trendy than the rest of the city. Nightlife venues are more numerous here. It is also student-friendly: the heart of the area (the Central Village) is dominated by the campus of NYU (New York University). Partly due to the area's younger demographic, downtown apartments often skew small: almost a third of all available apartments are studios.
Summary: Downtown refers to everything below 14th Street. It is comprised of about a dozen of irregular-shaped neighborhoods grouped into three "community districts" (1, 2, and 3).
While much of Midtown Manhattan (especially its central part) is NYC's bona fide office district, the area also includes many residential neighborhoods. Like pretty much everywhere in Manhattan, the dominant residential architecture form in Midtown is the multi-apartment building.
Overall, compared to Downtown, Midtown is more reserved, touristy (especially in the Times Square area), somewhat older and more architecturally homogeneous. (The latter is due in part to Manhattan's geology, which allows building very tall buildings in the island's Midtown core, and in part to the history of development in Midtown).
While most midtown apartment buildings were constructed after the World War II, some are "pre-war" (an epithet whose presence in real estate ads often implies that there'll be premium to pay for a somewhat more generous layout of the apartment). Other common building styles on offer are the (low-rise) "row house / brownstone" (especially on side streets in Gramercy Park and Midtown East), the (low-to-mid-rise) "tenement building" (particularly in Hell's Kitchen), and the "industrial / loft building" which can vary in size (mostly Chelsea, Garment District and Flatiron District).
Many large rental buildings constructed in Midtown during the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s were built in Midtown West – that is to say, in Chelsea, Garment District, Hudson Yards and Hell's Kitchen. This was was due to the ready availability of plots suitable for redevelopment. This trend of more new buildings being built on the western side of midtown Manhattan is likely to continue.
Summary: "Midtown" is everything between 14th Street and
59th streets / Central Park
(the area corresponding to Manhattan community districts 4, 5 and 6).
Midtown's lower-central part is sometimes referred to as "Midtown South" (although its exact borders' definitions vary quite widely). This area exhibits many features that are more characteristic of Downtown.
Uptown proper is essentially split into two large areas – the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side. In between those two lies Central Park. In addition, several smaller peripheral areas (e.g. Morningside Heights on the west side and Upper Carnegie Hill on the east side) are usually included in this definition. The Upper East Side and Upper West Side – Uptown's main neighborhoods – are both primarily residential, albeit with slightly different demographic profiles. Both are generally upscale, but of the two, the Upper West Side is more mixed (racially, economically, and across professional lines), more liberal, and more artsy. Morningside Heights, a neighborhood surrounding Columbia University, and which can be thought of "Upper West Side North" is popular with students.
Roosevelt Island, an actual island in the East River, is also considered to be part of Uptown Manhattan. It is a largely residential area with a number of mid- and high-rise apartment buildings. While the social makeup is mixed, it is mostly a middle class neighborhood, with a noticeably high proportion of UN employees among its residents.
Uptown apartments are often larger than those found in Downtown, their services are more plentiful and Central Park is never too far. Nevertheless, Uptown rental prices overall tend to be somewhat lower compared to Downtown, reflecting the area's relative lack of trendiness.
Yorkville, Museum Mile, Carnegie Hill, and Lenox Hill are all sub-neighborhoods of the Upper East Side. In addition, Upper Carnegie Hill lies just to the north, but can be considered part of it as well.
Summary: Uptown stretches from 59th to (approximately) 96th on the East Side, 125th on the West Side, and 110th in between.
For decades, much of the land mass above 110th street was considered to be outside of the "prime" area of Manhattan and consequently, of little interest to successful New Yorkers looking for a place to live. Part of the reason was the neglect of buildings, poverty, and "urban blight", another was the legacy of an uncomfortably large number of housing projects built in Harlem in the 1950s and 1960s. Racial divisions also played a role. Successive attempts to redevelop large parts of the area invariably failed (those interested in the reasons are advised to read Jane Jacobs' excellent "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", written at the height of such efforts).
Things started changing in the 1990s and change accelerated in the 2000s with multiple (mostly upscale) condo and rental projects attracting new residents in droves – principally to Central Harlem. These developments aside, older housing stock prevails in the area: most multi-apartment buildings in Harlem and Washington Heights were built in the decade preceding the Great Depression.
Today, the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods are still a relatively good deal compared with the rest of Manhattan, particularly if you are willing to "climb" higher, to the traditionally more Hispanic neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood. In the first two decades of the 21st century they attracted many Columbia and NYU students: the express A train efficiently links these neighborhoods to both campuses on the west side of Manhattan. However, the gentrification process continues unabated and as it does, prices rise. Unsurprisingly, the less gentrified an area, the better the deals you can get.