Is Buffalo Part Of Upstate New York? Exploring Its Unique Regional Identity

With its proximity to Niagara Falls and Canada, Buffalo has a distinctly rustbelt character that sets it apart from other cities in New York state. But is Buffalo actually considered part of Upstate New York? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While Buffalo is geographically located upstate, culturally it is often viewed as distinct from the Upstate region.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will analyze Buffalo’s geographical, cultural, economic, and historical relationship to Upstate New York. We will examine definitions of the Upstate region, arguments for and against including Buffalo, and evidence of Buffalo’s regional uniqueness. While the issue is still debated, we will show why Buffalo is commonly differentiated from true Upstate cities like Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.

Geographical Definitions

When discussing the regional identity of Buffalo, it is important to understand its geographical definitions. Buffalo is located in the western part of New York State, which is commonly referred to as Western New York.

However, when it comes to categorizing Buffalo as part of Upstate New York, the answer is not as straightforward.

Outside NYC Metropolitan Area

Outside of the New York City metropolitan area, the rest of the state is commonly divided into two regions: Upstate New York and Downstate New York. Upstate New York generally refers to the northern and western parts of the state, while Downstate New York includes New York City and its surrounding suburbs.

Upstate vs Downstate Boundaries

The exact boundaries between Upstate and Downstate New York are a matter of debate. Some define Upstate New York as anything north of New York City, while others argue that it starts further north, around Westchester County or even as far north as Albany.

This discrepancy in definitions has led to varying opinions on whether Buffalo is considered part of Upstate New York.

Western NY Designation

Buffalo is undeniably located in the western part of New York State and is often referred to as part of Western New York. This region includes not only Buffalo but also other cities such as Rochester and Niagara Falls.

Western New York has its own distinct cultural, economic, and political characteristics that set it apart from other regions in the state.

While some may argue that Buffalo is part of Upstate New York due to its location outside of the New York City metropolitan area, others may argue that it is more closely aligned with the Western New York designation.

Ultimately, the categorization of Buffalo’s regional identity may vary depending on individual perspectives and definitions.

Cultural Differences

Buffalo, located in western New York, has a unique regional identity that sets it apart from other parts of the state. This can be attributed to the city’s cultural differences, which have been shaped by its industrial history, Midwest influences, and sports rivalries.

Industrial History

One of the key factors that shaped Buffalo’s cultural identity is its rich industrial history. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Buffalo was a major hub for manufacturing and trade, particularly in industries such as steel production, grain milling, and shipping.

This industrial boom brought in a diverse population of immigrants from countries such as Poland, Italy, Ireland, and Germany, who contributed to the city’s multicultural fabric. Today, Buffalo’s industrial past can still be seen in its historic buildings, such as the iconic grain elevators along the Buffalo River.

Midwest Influences

Another aspect that sets Buffalo apart is its Midwest influences. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, Buffalo shares a border with Canada and has historically had strong connections with the Midwest.

This proximity has led to the adoption of certain Midwestern values and cultural traits, such as a strong work ethic, a love for hearty cuisine (think chicken wings and beef on weck), and a friendly and down-to-earth demeanor.

These influences have helped shape Buffalo’s unique regional identity and have made it a welcoming and tight-knit community.

Sports Rivalries

Sports rivalries also play a significant role in Buffalo’s cultural differences. The city is passionate about its sports teams, particularly the Buffalo Bills (NFL) and the Buffalo Sabres (NHL). The fierce rivalries with other teams, such as the New England Patriots and the Toronto Maple Leafs, have created a strong sense of community and camaraderie among Buffalo residents.

On game days, the city comes alive with fans donning team colors, tailgating in parking lots, and cheering on their beloved teams. These sports rivalries have become an integral part of Buffalo’s cultural fabric and contribute to its unique regional identity.

Economic Factors

When examining the unique regional identity of Buffalo within Upstate New York, it is crucial to consider the various economic factors that have shaped the city’s history and continue to influence its present.

These factors have played a significant role in defining Buffalo’s identity and have contributed to its distinct character.

Manufacturing Decline

One of the key economic factors that have shaped Buffalo’s regional identity is the decline of its manufacturing industry. Historically, Buffalo was a thriving center of manufacturing, particularly in steel production, automobile manufacturing, and grain milling.

However, like many cities in the Rust Belt, Buffalo experienced a significant decline in its manufacturing sector starting in the mid-20th century.

This decline had a profound impact on the city’s economy and led to job losses and population decline. Many once-bustling factories and industrial sites became abandoned or repurposed, leaving behind a legacy of economic challenges for the city to overcome.

Connection to Canada

Another important economic factor that sets Buffalo apart within Upstate New York is its close proximity and strong economic connection to Canada. Buffalo sits on the eastern shores of Lake Erie, directly across from the Canadian province of Ontario.

This geographic advantage has facilitated robust trade and cross-border commerce, benefiting both Buffalo and the surrounding region.

The Peace Bridge, connecting Buffalo to Fort Erie in Ontario, is one of the busiest border crossings between the United States and Canada. This connection has fostered a thriving trade relationship, with goods and services flowing between the two countries.

Additionally, Canadian tourists often visit Buffalo for shopping, entertainment, and sports events, further boosting the local economy.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2019, Canada accounted for over 27% of Buffalo’s total exports, making it a vital economic partner for the city.

Rust Belt Alignment

Buffalo’s economic history aligns it with the Rust Belt, a region in the northeastern United States characterized by the decline of its industrial and manufacturing sectors. The term “Rust Belt” originated from the rusting of machinery and infrastructure left behind after the decline of heavy industry.

While the Rust Belt label carries negative connotations, it also represents a shared history and identity among cities like Buffalo, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. These cities have faced similar economic challenges and have sought to revitalize their economies through diversification and innovation.

Buffalo’s unique regional identity within the Rust Belt lies in its efforts to embrace new industries, such as clean energy, healthcare, and technology. The city has attracted startups and established companies in these sectors, leading to job creation and economic growth.

Buffalo’s Perspective

Buffalo, New York, holds a unique regional identity that sets it apart from the rest of the state. The city and its residents have a strong sense of pride in their distinct culture, history, and traditions. Let’s explore Buffalo’s perspective and understand why it stands out in Upstate New York.

Distinct Regional Pride

Buffalo is known for its passionate residents who proudly embrace their city’s unique characteristics. From the iconic Buffalo wings to the beloved sports teams like the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, the city has a rich cultural heritage that is deeply cherished by its people.

The local cuisine, including the famous beef on weck sandwich, and the vibrant arts and music scene also contribute to the city’s distinct regional identity. Buffalo’s pride in its history and cultural heritage is evident in its numerous museums, historical landmarks, and annual festivals like the National Buffalo Wing Festival and Taste of Buffalo.

Pushback Against ‘Upstate’ Label

While Buffalo is geographically located in Upstate New York, many residents strongly reject the ‘Upstate’ label. They argue that Buffalo’s identity and character are fundamentally different from other cities commonly associated with the term ‘Upstate,’ such as Rochester or Syracuse.

Buffalo has a unique blend of industrial history, architectural marvels like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Darwin D. Martin House, and a thriving waterfront area with attractions like Canalside and the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.

The distinctiveness of Buffalo’s regional identity has led to a sense of separation from the broader Upstate region.

Demand for Recognition

Buffalo’s residents, businesses, and local leaders have been advocating for greater recognition and investment in the city’s development. They believe that Buffalo deserves more attention and resources to continue its economic growth and revitalize its neighborhoods.

Efforts such as the Buffalo Billion initiative and the redevelopment of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are testament to the city’s demand for recognition and its potential for further progress. The commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship can be seen in the rise of tech startups and the establishment of innovation hubs like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub.

Debating Buffalo’s Classification

Buffalo, a city located in western New York, has long been a subject of debate when it comes to its classification as part of Upstate New York. While some argue that Buffalo should be considered part of Upstate, others believe it has a unique regional identity that sets it apart from the rest of the state.

Arguments for Upstate Inclusion

Those who argue for Buffalo’s inclusion in Upstate New York point to its geographical location. Situated near the Canadian border, Buffalo shares similarities with other cities in Upstate, such as Rochester and Syracuse.

Additionally, Buffalo experiences similar weather patterns, characterized by cold winters and lake-effect snow, which is a common feature of Upstate New York.

Furthermore, supporters of Upstate inclusion highlight the economic and cultural ties between Buffalo and other cities in the region. Buffalo is part of the Rust Belt, a region known for its industrial past.

Like other cities in Upstate, Buffalo has faced economic challenges in recent decades but has also seen a resurgence in its economy through revitalization efforts.

Reasons for Buffalo Uniqueness

On the other hand, those who argue for Buffalo’s uniqueness emphasize the city’s distinct characteristics. Buffalo has a rich architectural heritage, with iconic buildings such as the Guaranty Building and the Darwin D. Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

This architectural legacy sets Buffalo apart from other cities in Upstate New York.

Additionally, Buffalo has a strong sports culture, with passionate fans supporting their beloved Buffalo Bills football team and Buffalo Sabres hockey team. The city’s sports teams have a loyal following and contribute to the unique identity and pride of Buffalo residents.

A City in Transition

Buffalo is a city in transition, with ongoing efforts to redefine itself and attract new industries and investments. The city has invested in revitalizing its waterfront, creating a vibrant hub for entertainment, dining, and outdoor activities.

This transformation further adds to the distinctiveness of Buffalo’s regional identity.


While geographically located upstate, Buffalo’s geography, culture, economy and history make it distinct from New York’s quintessential Upstate cities. Though some argue it still belongs under the Upstate umbrella, Buffalo resists the label and demands recognition as its own region.

As a former manufacturing hub navigating economic reinvention and a gritty Rust Belt character at odds with Upstate’s pastoral image, Buffalo sits in a class of its own. The debate will continue, but the evidence suggests Western New York’s largest city is a world apart from what most consider true Upstate New York.

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