A few years ago, Nicholas Walker, a previous Opinions columnist at Pipe Dream and a Syracuse native, wrote a column titled “Binghamton is not part of upstate New York.” The crux of his argument is that if we divide the state by geographic coordinates, Binghamton, being located south of the center of the state, must be downstate. First and foremost, when have coordinates alone ever been used to draw borders? The history of the national state and local borders is filled with many divisions — ethnic, cultural, religious and topographic — but rarely is it based on longitudes and latitudes. The reason why is because that would be an extremely inefficient way to divide geographic entities. People are complex and rarely fit into easy boundaries. The divisions between upstate and downstate New York are like most divisions, being more so cultural and political than geographic. I believe there is a clear difference when entering the lower and upper parts of our state. For these reasons, Binghamton is part of upstate New York.

While Walker believes that mentioning population differences to claim Binghamton as upstate is insulting, population difference is one of the best ways of dividing a region simply because different population densities produce different cultural differences. In the New York City metro region, around 55.4 percent of the population is nonwhite, compared to around 26.6 percent in Binghamton. This in turn produces the very visible political differences we see in the electoral map today. Unlike Walker’s abstract lines that begin around Syracuse, looking at election maps can show a stark contrast between where downstate ends and upstate begins. In the most recent presidential election, there is a solid blue wall stretching from Nassau County in the southeast up into Dutchess and Ulster Counties in the north. Beyond that, the map is mostly filled with red. Broome County is in fact surrounded by a sea of red, reflecting a stark and visibly identifiable difference between “upstate” and “downstate.” It’s under this context that we can explain the historically close House of Representatives races between Republican Claudia Tenney and Democrat Anthony Brindisi in recent years — close elections which are rare for the electoral politics of downstate New York.

This is not to say that upstate New York doesn’t exist or matter. That is a very childish way of looking at statistical differences. As a downstater myself, I believe that upstate is a vital part of New York. It makes our state what it is: as diverse as the country itself. Going from Buffalo to Long Island, we can see an array of topographical political and cultural landscapes that can’t be easily summed up in simple geographic coordinates. The Southern Tier is not called the Southern Tier because it is the most southern part of the state, but rather due to the distinct culture that was shaped by a once booming industrial sector of the state and grit and determination of its people who have long been left behind. Our county names are full of this history. Looking across the state we see the influence of the Irish in the naming of Ulster County, the French of Orleans County, the Dutch in Orange and Bronx Counties, the British in Essex, Kings and New York Counties and Native Americans in Cayuga, Niagara, Oneida and Onondaga Counties.

My point is this: geography has never been about just lines on a map. Geography is about the people inhabiting them. Looking at that alone, our understanding of our own state becomes richer and more realistic. It would be tragic if we were to disregard the vast cultural differences that compose the state for a simple division between up and down, north and south.

So next time an upstater insists that everything south of 42 degrees is downstate, tell them that in the grand scheme of things, coordinates don’t matter, but people most certainly do.

Peter Levy is an undeclared freshman.