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Five maps to help you be a better New Yorker

Written by
Clayton Guse

Everyone who calls New York home ought to make an effort to make the city a better place. Whether it's getting involved and taking action in your community or something as simple as holding the door open for a stranger, it's important to ensure that NYC remains the amazing place that it has become over the past, you know, 500 years. But in order to be a great New Yorker, it's important to educate yourself on both the history and the current state of the city. One effective and simple way to obtain such an education is through maps. 

These five maps all tell different stories about where New York stands today and how it got there. The level of civic pride in NYC is hard to find anywhere else in the world, and it's our hope that these maps help make you a prouder, smarter and overall better New Yorker.

Get to know NYC's 59 community districts

Photograph: City of New York

New York City has hundreds of neighborhoods across its five boroughs, but the actual borders between each of them are ambiguous, to say the least. When it comes to demarcating different areas in the city, community districts are a much better way to look at things. There are 59 of them in New York, each of which has 50 unpaid board members who are appointed by the respective borough president or City Council member. The borders between NYC's neighborhoods have long been subject to change and debate (and have long been manipulated by real estate brokers in order to sell and rent property), but if you want to know where your apartment is "officially" located, reference the map above. Granted, saying that you live in Greenpoint is more understandable than saying you live in "Brooklyn Community District 1."

Look back at the OG NYC

Photograph: New York Public Library

When European explorers first sailed into New York Harbor, they likely said something like, "Oh shit, this place is great." Originally dubbed New Amsterdam, this map shows the grants of village lots issued by the Dutch West India Company to residents way back in 1642. The area shown details the section of Lower Manhattan below Wall Street, and includes intriguing details such as "The Common Ditch" and "The Old Ditch." If you want to get a sense of NYC's rich history, this map provides a great visual aid in doing so. 

Dive into an out-of-scale breakdown of the British capture of NYC

Photograph: New York Public Library

In 1776, after America property declared its independence, British forces set their sights on New York. After landing on Staten Island on July 3 of the country's inaugural year, the Brits headed to Long Island and fought what would become one of the largest battles of the American Revolutionary War. On September 15, British General William Howe landed more than 10,000 troops in Lower Manhattan and quickly took the island. The map above breaks down the capture of the city (and also surveys the city less accurately than a subway diagram). Of course, George Washington famously retreated across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, regrouped and eventually won the war six years later, but this map is a fascinating historical relic that details what one of the most devastating losses in American military history. 

Marvel at the origins of Central Park

Photograph: New York Public Library

Central Park was first established in 1857, and was later expanded to its current size in 1873. It's since become the most-visited park in the United States, and one of New York's most treasured attractions. But before it was the tourist haven, it was a swampy stretch in the middle of Manhattan. This survey from 1856 shows the topography of the park and the plans for its improvement at the time. A year later, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux submitted a winning design for the land that put the ball in motion to begin turning to park into what it is today. At the very least, this, map shows how much Central Park has changed over the past 150 years (as well as how spectacularly precise cartographers were in the Google Maps-less 19th century). 

Sift through every single one of NYC's landmarks

New York is one of (if not the most) historic cities in the entire country. In an effort to preserve the city's rich past, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated hundreds of properties, parks, buildings and neighborhoods as historic landmarks since its creation in 1965. The map above shows every single one of them (you can find an interactive version here). If you want to be a better New Yorker, it would behoove you to check out as many of these locations as possible—or at least brush up on their stories. 

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