Did you know that New York City has five boroughs? They include Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens. Each of these has a smaller government within the greater city government. Thus there are five borough presidents with limited governing powers. As unique entities, each of the boroughs comes with a unique culture and reputation. Each of these boroughs also exists as a county of New York State complete with a district attorney.
What’s the history behind the five boroughs of New York City?
When the English created the colony of New York, they established four counties. The counties included New York (Manhattan), Kings (Brooklyn), Richmond (Staten Island), and Queens. At that time, the city of New York actually lay on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. The rest consisted of farming communities. Within no time, New York and Brooklyn emerged as separate cities. Its very interesting: Where Does All The Trash From New York Go?
By the 1890s, there were over 40 separate municipalities controlling the present day New York. This proved difficult for industrialists who were out to install utilities and transport goods through the harbor and railroad. At that time, City Planner Andrew Haswell proposed that the four counties be merged into a big city. He argued that a huge chunk of Westchester County be annexed. This is what would later be known as the Bronx.
New York City
Several referenda were held in all the towns and cities affected by the proposal. Although a number of local issues threatened the passing of these referenda, New Yorkers eventually approved the plan. The people of Brooklyn and the other peripheral areas did not want to lose their autonomy to a huge metropolis. A number of civic organizations and newspapers saw the merger of the counties as a threat to Protestant homogeneity and loss of local control. However, most New Yorkers were keen to approve the idea. They feared that Chicago was going to surpass New York and become the nation’s most populous city. The other thing that attracted them was the prospect of paying lower taxes after the consolidation of services as well as the thought of living in the nation’s largest city. They had to vote in support of the plan.
In 1898, New York became a city with a population of 3 million. A new city charter was drawn by a special committee of the state legislature outlining the roles of the Board of Aldermen, comptroller, and mayor. It was the city charter that created the five boroughs together with the office of the borough president. Borough presidents were tasked with sitting on the Board of Estimate which oversaw land and budget issues. Each of these individuals had a single vote on the board.
After the 1989 declaration by the U.S Supreme court on the unconstitutionality of the Board of Estimate, boroughs were rendered literally powerless. That meant that borough presidents could only play the role of boosters. They primarily organize nonprofits and nongovernmental civic groups. Today, the New York boroughs exist only in name and on the map. They only serve as a source of belonging to the people of New York City.