Locating Community Boundaries

The different geographic boundaries below the borough (county) level can be absolutely dizzying. The relevant geopgraphic unit for your desired information could be anything from a census tract to a health area. Amazingly, a neighborhood, the geographical unit which seems to be the most important, is a complete non-entity as far as geographers are concerned. Neither the New York City Department of City Planning, nor the Census Bureau officially recognizes boundaries for NYC's over 200 neighborhoods. The lack of geographical coherence at the neighborhood or community level can be a serious obstacle in acquiring data for your specific service area. In order to find the right kind of information, it is necessary to rely on the different types of geographical boundaries that have already been determined. There are probably over a dozen such distinctions. Here are the most important:

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Community Geography


The Census Bureau has the following sub-country geographical hierarchy (from largest to smallest):

Census tract (definition)
Census block group (definition)
Census block (definition)

Geographic Areas Reference Manual This manual offers a more in depth review of census geography.

Due to privacy and sampling size concerns, the level at which data is most readily available is at the census tract level. In New York City census tracts are typically several square city blocks and can have populations ranging from 1,500 to 10,000.

Census tracts are perhaps the most precise geographical units we have access to. Because they are so small, tracts afford the user a great deal of specificity in defining custom geographical areas: they can be used to aggregate anything from borough regions (e.g., the South Bronx) to neighborhoods (Bedford Park). Census tract definitions can sometiems be correlated to other geographic boundaries, such as police precincts, community boards or school districts in order to produce data for districts that do not exist in the census' own geographical hierarchy.

Unfortunately, it can be somewhat difficult to figure out which census tracts constitute your neighborhood. Once you have comprised a list of the census tracts that constitute your service area, the census website allows you to download data for just those census tracts.

Find out which census tracts constitute your neighborhood.

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Zip Codes

After census tracts, the next largest and perhaps most useful geographical distinction is zip codes. Since the 1980s, the census bureau has done statistical analysis by zip code. Due to the increased demand for data analysis at the zip code level, the census bureau introduced Zip Code Tabulation Areas for Census 2000. These will be approximations of U.S Postal Service zip codes, slightly adjusted so as to keep all census tracts in tact.

Due to their mid-level size (Zip codes are bigger than census tracts but often smaller than neighborhoods. Thier mid-level size has caused many organizations to find that zip codes are an indispensable geographic unit. The zip code maps for the five boroughs will help determine which zip codes form your area.

The Bronx
Staten Island

Find data about your zip code.

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Administrative Districts

Different city agencies have carved the city into districts in order to better provide their respective services. Most of the agencies also generate a good deal of useful online data. Here are some of the most important:

Community Districts

Community Districts delineate the jurisdiction of the local Community Board. Of all the official administrative districts in the city, community districts usually correspond most closely to neighborhood boundaries.

New York: A City of Neighborhoods Find out which community board represents you, and look at the community profile of your area, including demographics about open space, schools, and other neighborhood attributes from the 2000 Census, visit the Department of City Planning's

NYCHANIS The New York City Housing and Neighborhood Information System (NYCHANIS) created by the NYU Law School Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy allows users to access housing and demographic data from the Housing and Vacancy Survey, Census and a number of other sources, by census tract, community district, sub-borough area, zip code and political districts, and even has mapping capabilities.

Police Precincts

Knowing which police precincts constitute your area is vital, so the NYPD provides an index of precincts. Each precinct's website should have its own precinct profile, and you can use this feature to help determine which precinct you belong to.

Knowing your police precincts is merely the first step in an uphill battle to get information from the NYPD. Here are some tips on acquiring crime statistics.

School Districts

The New York City Department of Education divides the city into 34 school districts (plus seven high school divisions).

Find the districts in your area go to the clickable school-district map.

The Department of Education site provides an impressively comprehensive range of data. For instructions on how to access it, click here.

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Political Districts

There are at least four different political boundaries in the city, but for community based organization the most important is probably the City Council. Other political boundries with elected officials are the Congressional District, State Assembly, and State Senate.

The NYCity Map The NYCity Map is a great resource for mapping the nearby city council district and elected officials at a local, state, and federal level for a given address, as well as building and property information, and neighborhood information.

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