Jeff wrote almost all the text; Roger edited it and added a few bits. Things that are wrong are probably Roger's fault.
OK, first, a mental map: Visualize Manhattan Island as roughly a downward-pointing tail-less arrow, like on a ONE WAY road sign. Chop off the left barb (as you're looking at it) of the arrowhead, and about two-thirds of the way up, chop off the right two-thirds of the shaft. Got the picture?
(Incidentally, you can see a reasonable PDF map of Manhattan at http://www.mta.info/nyct/maps/manbus.pdf. It has the bus routes on it, but it does label some of the neighborhoods, and it shows EVERY street. Even reasonably to scale. I recommend grabbing it and using it in parallel with this description.)
Down in the arrow's tip, up to about a third of the way up the barbed tip, is the financial district. This is where Money works - the stock exchanges and many major finance-related corporation offices are here, as are small companies that cater to those industries. The investment divisions of major banks will be here, as will important offices of financial data service companies. The western sliver of this contains the site of the former World Trade Center. West of it is Battery Park City, very expensive residential condo/co-op. Well, until 11 September 2001, it was very expensive; prices plummeted after Certain Events. It still hasn't recovered, but it will. Wall Street is held to be the central artery of this area, but there isn't really such a center.
(Historical note: Wall Street was the northern border of the Dutch colony city of Nieuw Amsterdam, and really had a wall along it, to protect the colony from the Indians.)
Immediately above this, on the west, is an anonymous area that is mixed-use - some residential, some semi-industrial, and some government. The residential aspects remind one of TriBeCa, to the north; the governmental aspects are generally back-end offices. East of this is the Civic Center - City Hall, the courts (city, state, and Federal), and offices/headquarters of law enforcement and government agencies at all levels. And the small companies that cater to them.
(Historical note: When the city (by now, captured by the British and renamed New York) had expanded to this point, it was never anticipated that it would expand farther north, and so the northern face of City Hall was built with cheaper stone, since nobody would ever see it. Few people see it today, because there's a courthouse behind it, blocking the view.)
Above this, on the west, is TriBeCa - "Triangle Below Canal (Street)". Mostly industrial lofts, but yuppifying into artistic residential loftage. To the east of TriBeCa are Chinatown and Little Italy, originally immigrant communities that have remained largely ethnically coherent, and to the east of THOSE is the Lower East Side, which is now mostly Latino, but was once where European Jews used to settle when they reached the United States. Some of the older residents are still Jews from that era, and you can still hear Yiddish spoken in some pockets.
Above that is SoHo (South of Houston (Street) - that's "HOW-st'n", not "Hyoo-stun") and the northern portion of the Lower East Side. SoHo is definitely strongly yuppified.
Above SoHo and the Lower East Side is Greenwich ("GREN-itch") Village; the West Village is the one famous for its homosexual community; the East Village is an artists' haven.
Above this point, the street grid becomes rigorous - the only street that is an exception is Broadway, which, up to this point, has gone pretty much straight up the middle of the island. From here, it starts cutting across the island diagonally to the west. Most neighborhoods are anonymous; they'll be described by the streets approximately bounding them. Avenues are numbered east to west; streets are numbered south to north. The dividing line between "East xth Street" and "West xth Street" is Fifth Avenue. Houston Street is "Zeroth" street; the northern extremes of the Village are, for all intents and purposes, 14th Street. Going north/south, assume 20 blocks to one mile; going east/west, it varies, but you can assume five blocks to the mile. Note that in the eastern portion of the island from here, Lexington ("Lex") and Madison Avenues are NOT part of the numbered avenue count, and Park Avenue is the actual name of Fourth Avenue (and used as such) (and Avenue of the Americas [not commonly used] is the official name of Sixth Avenue). Pluralized numbers (50s, 70s, etc.) represent blocks of numbered streets; decades of years will (if needed) be prefixed by an apostrophe ('70s, '90s) or written out in full (1970s, 1990s)
West 14th to about West 28th. Residential. The extreme southwestern portion is industrial, the meat-packing district; the industrial section continues north, becoming mixed.
East of Chelsea is mixed residential and commercial, no special characteristics. Exception: East of First Avenue is Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, a pair of residential co-op communities. VERY expensive, and with a waiting list that, if you put your name on when you get married, you should expect your ADULT CHILDREN to be the ones called for the interview. Or maybe yourself after you retire, if you're long-lived.
From about 28th Street up to 59th Street. The eastern fifth is mixed residential and commercial, as is the western quarter; the area between is almost purely commercial. Big businesses that aren't in the financial industry will look to headquarter in this area (as will some banks), along with the smaller businesses that cater to them. Also, major retail will be here. Small retail businesses will be upscale, and even the 'corner deli' is going to be 'gourmet', with prices to match. Transportation hubs Grand Central Terminal (East 42nd St. and Park), Pennsylvania Station (West 34th St. and Seventh/Eighth) and Port Authority Bus Terminal (West 42nd St. and Eighth/Ninth) are in this area. So is Rockefeller Center, from 49th to 53rd, Fifth Ave. to Seventh Ave. Broadway continues its diagonal trek, running from 23rd and Fifth to 34th and Sixth (Herald Square) to 42nd and Seventh (Times Square) to 59th and Eighth (Columbus Circle). Although the girlie shows and other sex-related businesses have disappeared from Times Square, it still displays the bright lights and ... over-emphatic ... displays that those businesses started. (If your game is set before about 1990, the sex-related businesses will still be there.) From Times Square to about 53rd Street, Broadway is the central artery of the Theater District. The Empire State Building (tallest <sigh> in NY) is at 33rd and Fifth, the Chrysler Building with its Art Deco pinnacle is at 42nd and Lex, the main branch of the New York Public Library (with the famous lions guarding the stairs) is at 42nd and Fifth. Below 42nd Street, Seventh Avenue is the center of the "Garment District", and is zoned commercial but with a lot of activity that should be considered Industrial going on.
At 59th Street, the island is divided vertically into three segments - from the East River to Fifth Avenue, from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, and from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River. The middle section, from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, is Central Park, from here to 110th Street.
A continuation of the eastern residential portion of Midtown. Expensive brownstones, mostly. Some housing projects, but even those are nicer than is the norm for a Project. Housing gets progressively more expensive as you go up, to about the mid-70s. There is one major corporate headquarters building in this area, the distinctive Citicorp skyscraper.
For a great deal of detail, see http://www.centralparknyc.org/. In short, it's a park: dog-walking, picnics, open-air concerts, ball fields, wandering around in a (pseudo-)natural setting, some boating. A zoo in the southeast corner is small, but pleasant. Ice skating in the winter.
Now called Clinton, formerly called Hell's Kitchen. Now a nice residential neighborhood, didn't used to be. Perversely, some of the residents who wouldn't have moved in to Hell's Kitchen are starting to call it that again, although the neighborhood is NOT returning to those conditions. Runs up to the mid-60s, with values barely falling as you go north. Hell's Kitchen (the area before about 1980) was a crime- and drug-ridden area, low values, but not quite bombed out like the "popular" images of Harlem.
From the mid-70s to about 96th St. Residential, values falling slowly from Fifth Avenue eastward, and rapidly from the mid-80s northward east of Third Avenue. From about 86th to about 96th on Fifth Avenue is the so-called "Museum Mile", with the Guggenheim, the Met, the Modern, and other museums all clustered together.
Technically, it continues to 110th Street, but values fall RAPIDLY from south to north across the entire area from 96th north, so from there to 110th is an anonymous area often lumped in with Harlem (see below).
Essentially a mirror of the Upper East Side, although values aren't as high in the south, and thus don't fall off as fast, and the northern portions are still Upper West Side rather than being lumped in with Harlem. East of Columbus (Tenth) Avenue in the 70s, there are a number of very small (total student body less than fifty each) private schools, some ostensibly catering to specific populations that are ill-served by "normal" schools. These schools are identified only by plaques near their doors; they look like the brownstones that characterize the area. Other brownstones house small businesses such as doctor (GP, specialty, and psychiatric (including therapists without MDs)), or dentist offices. The New York Historical Society and the American Museum of Natural History (with the Hayden Planetarium) are on Central Park West (Eighth Avenue), on opposite sides of 79th Street.
110th to about 135th: Harlem. Formerly a black ghetto, values are still low here. It's also still mostly black, now with a large Latino minority. Central Harlem, basically north of Central Park, is undergoing something of a renaissance, with new construction for offices and retail going up. Some of this is spilling over into other parts of Harlem, with new schools going up in several areas, and some apartment buildings being torn down and built anew and others extensively renovated. There's an upscale pocket from about 110th to 120th because of the proximity of Columbia University and the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (Episcopal, often "...the Perpetually Unfinished"). There's also a park - Morningside Park - that marks the boundary between this pocket and the rest of Harlem; the pocket is often referred to as Morningside Heights. The whole area, except for the commercial core on 125th Street, is residential. Before about 1980, the whole area east of Morningside Park to the East River looked like/was a bombed-out ghetto.
From about 135th up, there is no east side; this is where the island narrows.
135th to about 160th: Residential, mixed black and Latino, but values rise to the west. No cohesive identity, not considered part of Harlem, but much like it. Values rise gradually to the north across the entire area, staying higher in the west than in the 'east'.
Washington Heights is from about 160th to about 180th. Nicer than Harlem, not up to the level of even the northern part of the Upper West Side. Struggling to rise, but not being pulled down. Residential.
About 180th to about 190th. Residential, values relatively steady, but slowly rising. No cohesive identity, it's the transition between Washington Heights and Inwood. Benefiting from improvements in both neighborhoods, but as both start out pretty low, the entire area has a long way to rise. The Port Authority has a bus terminal up here, too, at 180th Street under the George Washington Bridge.
Above 190th, to the Harlem River at 215th St. Residential. Better than Washington Heights, but not great.
Staten Island is often referred to as the 'forgotten borough' or the 'stepchild' of New York City. Where the other four boroughs are generally urban in character, Staten Island is very suburban, with significant swaths of completely undeveloped land. Where the typical New Yorker can be expected to vote Democratic, Staten Island consistently votes for Republicans. Four boroughs have subway and rail connections; Staten Island is relatively isolated, with only four bridges for private automobiles, buses, and the Staten Island Ferry connecting it with the rest of the world. To some extent, its inclusion in the city is a result of a historical accident; in the early days of settlement of the area, both New York and New Jersey claimed it - and the matter was settled by a boat race from the present site of the Saint George terminal of the Staten Island Ferry to the south end of the island at what is now called Tottenville. The captain of the New York boat won the race, and the border between the colonies of New York and New Jersey was fixed along the Arthur Kill on the west and the Kill Van Kull on the north. What industrial facilities are present in Staten Island are located generally along the northern shore (the Kill Van Kull) and the mostly undeveloped northern- and central-western portion of the island. The major commercial thoroughfare is Hylan Boulevard, which runs practically the entire length of the island from Tottenville in the south to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (which connects Staten Island with Brooklyn).
Manhattan is probably the area of the country where car ownership per capita is lowest. Much can be done walking, and what can't, can often be done on mass transit (see below). Much of the waterfront is now 'strip parks', designed for walking or biking; businesses and residences are generally in proximity such that one can carry on most activities - school, shopping, recreation, etc. - within walking distance of one's home.
Manhattan serves as a terminal for three railways, and a through station for a fourth. The Metro-North Commuter Railroad, three lines serving Westchester, Putnam and Duchess counties in New York, and (by arrangement with the Connecticut Department of Transportation) Fairfield and New Haven counties in Connecticut, brings its quarter-million daily riders to Grand Central Terminal; the Long Island Railroad's ten lines bring a half-million daily riders to either Penn(sylvania) Station in Manhattan or Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn; and five of New Jersey Transit's eight lines also send trains into Penn Station. (The other three lines go into the Hoboken terminal, and three of the lines that feed Penn Station also feed Hoboken. The Hoboken-only lines also serve Rockland and Orange counties in New York, by arrangement with Metro-North) Amtrak rounds out New York's rail service, sending trains between New York, Albany, Buffalo, Boston, Washington, and Chicago through Penn Station. Prior to the mid-1980s, Amtrak service to Albany and Buffalo, and some service to Chicago, went into Grand Central Terminal.
Hoboken and Newark are also connected to Manhattan (at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue, and at the former World Trade Center site) by the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Railway (PATH), a system that bears more resemblance to the subway (see next) than the railroads highlighted in this section.
New York City has an extensive public transit system. Four hundred and sixty-eight subway stations served by twenty-seven lines citywide are supplemented by a dense bus network, making it possible to travel almost anywhere in the city for a nominal two-dollar fare, and over two billion fares are collected every year. Fares are presently paid using a 'MetroCard', which can be purchased from station attendants or from vending machines located in every station. Multi-ride MetroCards are available in two forms ("pay-per-ride" and unlimited daily/weekly/ monthly); purchasing a multi-ride MetroCard as most riders do reduces the fare due to aggressive discounting on such purchases. Subway stations average seven to ten blocks apart, with trains coming every five to ten minutes throughout the day (variable by time of day - more often during rush hour; less often during late nights). Buses are generally of three types: Local buses make stops every two or three blocks (Manhattan measure, equivalent distances in other boroughs); Limited Stop buses stop at major intersections or points of interest (or connections with other buses or the subway); Express buses are extra fare services (currently $4 per trip) that make a cluster of stops in one area of one of the "outer boroughs", and then runs non-stop into Manhattan - midtown, the financial/government area downtown, or both. Most major streets in all boroughs have bus lines. More information is available from the MTA at http://www.mta.info selecting the link for NYC Transit.
Operated not by the MTA, but by the NYC Department of Transportation, the Staten Island Ferry carries passengers between the Saint George terminal on Staten Island and the Financial District in Manhattan. Within the last five years or so, it was determined that the cost of collecting the $0.25 fare exceeded the revenue generated from it, and so the fare was dropped entirely, making it free - and a QUITE pleasant way to spend a half hour if the weather is nice. Travel time is 25 minutes; boats leave every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on time of day.
In recent years, privately operated ferry services have started between Manhattan and Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Westchester, and the New Jersey waterfront. Many go out of business quickly; some manage to survive for some years. Typical fares are around $8 per trip, and most operate only for the commuter traffic.
There are two types of taxis in New York: "Medallion" taxis, which must be painted a bright yellow, are the only ones licensed to be hailed in the street for pickups. Unfortunately, because of passenger density and the system under which most drivers are paid, it is difficult, verging on impossible, to find a "yellow cab" outside of Manhattan-south-of-59th-street. Fares are $2.00 just to get in, plus $0.25 per one-fifth of a mile travel distance, plus $0.15 per ten seconds for stopped or slow traffic. Plus an additional $0.50 per trip after 8:00 PM. Outside the area where a yellow cab can be found, the primary service is from 'black cars', which are licensed and normally are hailed in the street but technically must be summoned by telephone (and are officially radio dispatched). Most 'black cars' are actually painted black, usually sedans of models often associated with elegance if not luxury. Fares are negotiated, but end up being comparable to yellow cab fares. There are also 'gypsy' cabs, unlicensed and often with other... deficiencies... as well.
Bringing a car into Manhattan is NOT recommended. Parking is very difficult to find, and expensive where available, and so many people ignore this advice that the average speed of traffic is comparable to that of a *walking* person - and during peak travel periods, it can be faster to walk than to drive. In the outer boroughs, while it's still possible to live without owning a car, it's not as easy, and car ownership is higher than in Manhattan - but still low compared to the national average.
Road access to Manhattan Island is via several bridges and tunnels:
Holland Tunnel (opened 1929), enters Manhattan at Canal Street.
Lincoln Tunnel (opened 1937), enters Manhattan at 40th Street.
George Washington Bridge (opened 1931), enters Manhattan at 180th Street
Henry Hudson Bridge (opened 1936), connects the Henry Hudson Parkway with the Bronx at Spuyten Duyvil.
Brooklyn Bridge (opened 1883), enters Manhattan just below Chambers Street
Manhattan Bridge (opened 1909), enters Manhattan at Canal Street
Williamsburgh Bridge (opened 1903), enters Manhattan at Delancey Street
Queens-Midtown Tunnel (opened 1940), enters Manhattan at 32nd Street
Queensborough Bridge (opened 1909), enters Manhattan at 60th Street
Triborough Bridge (opened 1936), enters Manhattan at 125th Street
There are also a number of small bridges across the Harlem River connecting Manhattan streets to streets in the Bronx.
On the old Idlewild Golf Course.
First commercial flights began on July 1, 1948.
Private flying field 1929, opened to commercial traffic December 1939
Across the Hudson River, Newark International in New Jersey is a cheaper option.
The New York City Police Department, first constituted in 1845, patrols the entire city, including the subways. Within the last ten years, separate forces for the transit system (the NYC Transit Police) and for Housing Authority residential highrises ("projects") (the NYC Housing Police) have been absorbed into the NYPD, as has the NYC Traffic Code Enforcement Department. Operationally, the NYPD is now divided into four "Bureaus" (Patrol, Detective, Housing, and Transportation), each of which has its own subdivisions. At the 'street' level, there are (citywide) seventy-six precincts, twelve "Transit Districts" (like precincts, but based on subway stations), and ten "Housing Police Service Areas" in thirteen locations (one Bronx PSA has two stations, and one Queens PSA has three). Presently, the NYPD has about 40,000 uniformed personnel of all ranks, and another 15,000 to 20,000 'civilian' employees providing support/logistical services (and the code enforcement personnel - who wear uniforms - are included in that 'civilian' employee count). Police precincts are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, and the city operates an enhanced 911 (emergency) service, allowing the emergency telephone operators to quickly pinpoint a caller's location and dispatch units from the appropriate location. Currently, there is an emphasis on 'Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect', leading to police officers who are much more pleasant to deal with, and also on 'Community Policing', allowing officers to become more familiar with the normal patterns of the communities they patrol, getting to know the people of the community, and becoming known by them. By and large, the NYPD is an upstanding and dedicated force, and also an effective one - NYC, in spite of being the most populous city in the United States - and in the top five world-wide - has one of the LOWEST per-capita crime rates among cities of populations greater than one million. Police departments from all over the world send officers and managers to New York on exchange to learn techniques pioneered here and proven effective.
New York is home to two major league and two minor league baseball teams. The New York Yankees play their home games at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, while the New York Mets sit in the first-base dugout at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. In 2000, both teams ended up at the top of their respective leagues, and the Subway Series was driving interest in baseball to all-time highs (and the World Series trophy went to the Yankees). In addition, the Staten Island Yankees (a farm club for the New York Yankees) play at Richmond County Bank Ballpark at Saint George, Staten Island (walking distance from the Staten Island end of the Staten Island Ferry), and the Brooklyn Cyclones (farm club for the New York Mets) play at Keyspan Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The Cyclones and the SI Yankees are in the same "short-season" league, and when they last met for the league championship, that trophy came to Coney Island.
In 2004, cricket came to the United States in the form of the American Pro Cricket league. Eight teams, one (the New York Storm) based at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island, brought many Americans their first taste of what is arguably the most popular spectator sport in the world (or maybe second most popular, behind soccer).
Madison Square Garden, located above Pennsylvania Station, is home to the New York Knickerbockers of the NBA and the New York Liberty of the WNBA (womens' pro basketball).
The New York Rangers play their home games at Madison Square Garden as well.
Although both the New York Jets and New York Giants still maintain the 'New York' in their names, neither team plays in New York. Both teams currently make their home at the New Jersey Meadowlands, although there is talk about building a stadium on the west side of Manhattan to lure the Jets back into the city.
The United States Open is played at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, a short distance from Shea Stadium.