The Upper East Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, between Central Park/Fifth Avenue, 59th Street, the East River, and 96th Street. The area incorporates several smaller neighborhoods, including Lenox Hill, Carnegie Hill, and Yorkville. Once known as the Silk Stocking District, it is now one of the most affluent neighborhoods in New York City.
Neighborhood boundaries in New York City are not officially set, but according to the Encyclopedia of New York City, the Upper East Side is bounded by 59th Street in the south, 96th Street on the north, Fifth Avenue to the west and the East River to the east. The AIA Guide to New York City extends the northern boundary to 106th Street near Fifth Avenue.
The area’s north-south avenues are Fifth, Madison, Park, Lexington, Third, Second, First, York, and East End Avenues, with the latter running only from East 79th Street to East 90th Street. The major east-west streets are 59th Street, 72nd Street, 79th Street, 86th Street and 96th Street.
Some real estate agents use the term “Upper East Side” instead of “East Harlem” to describe areas that are slightly north of 96th Street and near Fifth Avenue, in order to avoid associating these areas with the negative connotations of the latter, a neighborhood which is generally perceived as less prestigious.
The Upper East Side Historic District is one of New York City’s largest districts, as the neighborhood. This district runs from 59th to 78th Streets along Fifth Avenue, and up to 3rd Avenue at some points. In the decades after the Civil War, the once decrepit district transitioned into a thriving middle-class residential neighborhood. At the start of the 20th century, the neighborhood transformed again, but this time into a neighborhood of mansions and townhouses. As the century continued, and living environments altered, a lot of these single-family homes were replaced by lavish apartment buildings.
Famous residents move in
Before the Park Avenue Tunnel was covered (finished in 1910), fashionable New Yorkers shunned the smoky railroad trench up Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue), to build stylish mansions and townhouses on the large lots along Fifth Avenue, facing Central Park, and on the adjacent side streets. The latest arrivals were the rich Pittsburghers Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. The classic phase of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue as a stretch of private mansions was not long-lasting: the first apartment house to replace a private mansion on upper Fifth Avenue was 907 Fifth Avenue (1916), at 72nd Street, the neighborhood’s grand carriage entrance to Central Park.
Most members of New York’s upper-class families have made residences on the Upper East Side, including the oil-rich Rockefellers, political Roosevelts, political dynastic Kennedys, thoroughbred racing moneyed Whitneys, and tobacco and electric power fortuned Dukes.
Construction of the Third Avenue El, opened from 1878 in sections, followed by the Second Avenue El, opened in 1879, linked the Upper East Side’s middle class and skilled artisans closely to the heart of the city, and confirmed the modest nature of the area to their east. The ghostly “Hamilton Square”, which had appeared as one of the few genteel interruptions of the grid plan on city maps since the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, was intended to straddle what had now become the Harlem Railroad right-of-way between 66th and 69th Streets; it never materialized, though during the Panic of 1857 its unleveled ground was the scene of an open-air mass meeting called in July to agitate for the secession of the city and its neighboring counties from New York State, and the city divided its acreage into house lots and sold them. From the 1880s the neighborhood of Yorkville became a suburb of middle-class Germans.
Gracie Mansion, the last remaining suburban villa overlooking the East River at Carl Schurz Park, became the home of New York’s mayor in 1942. The East River Drive, designed by Robert Moses, was extended south from the first section, from 125th Street to 92nd Street, which was completed in 1934 as a boulevard, an arterial highway running at street level; reconstruction designs from 1948 to 1966 converted FDR Drive, as it was renamed after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, into the full limited-access parkway that is in use today.
Demolishing the elevated railways on Third and Second Avenues opened these tenement-lined streets to the spotty construction of high-rise apartment blocks from the 1950s. However, it had an adverse effect on transportation, because the IRT Lexington Avenue Line was now the only subway line in the area. The construction of the Second Avenue Subway has brought up the price of houses in the Upper East Side somewhat.
As of the 2000 census, there were 207,543 people residing in the Upper East Side. The population density was 118,184 people per square mile (45,649/km²), making Manhattan Community Board 8, coterminous with the Upper East Side, the densest Community Board in the city. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 89.25% White, 6.14% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 1.34% African American, 0.09% Native American, 1.39% from other races, and 1.74% from two or more races. 5.62% of the population were Hispanic of any race. Twenty-one percent of the population was foreign born; of this, 45.6% came from Europe, 29.5% from Asia, 16.2% from Latin America and 8.7% from other. The female-male ratio was very high with 125 females for 100 males. The Upper East Side contains a large and affluent Jewish population estimated at 56,000.
Given its very high population density and per capita income ($85,081 in 2000), the neighborhood contains the greatest concentration of individual wealth in Manhattan. As of 2011, the median household income for the Upper East Side was $117,903. As of 2011, 60.6% of adults (25+) had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The Upper East Side maintains the highest pricing per square foot in the United States. A 2002 report cited the average cost per square meter as $8,856; however, that price has noticed a substantial jump, increasing to almost as much as $11,200 per square meter as of 2006. There are some buildings which cost about $125 per square foot (~$1345/㎡). The only public housing projects for those of low to moderate incomes on the Upper East Side are located just south of the neighborhood’s northern limit at 96th Street, the Holmes Towers and Isaacs Houses. It borders East Harlem, which has the highest concentration of public housing in the United States.
The Upper East Side is one of few areas of Manhattan where Republicans constitute more than 20% of the electorate. In the southwestern part of the neighborhood, Republican voters equal Democratic voters (the only such area in Manhattan), whereas in the rest of the neighborhood Republicans make up between 20 and 40% of registered voters.
The Upper East Side is notable as a significant location of political fundraising in the United States. Four of the top five ZIP codes in the nation for political contributions are in Manhattan. The top ZIP Code, 10021, is on the Upper East Side and generated the most money for the 2004 presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and John Kerry.
The Upper East Side is currently served by one subway line, the four-track IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 trains), as well as local and limited MTA Regional Bus Operations routes M1, M2, M3, M4, M15, M15 SBS, M31, M98, M101, M102, M103 going uptown and downtown, as well as the crosstown M66, M72, M79, M86, M96.
Due to severe congestion on the subway and buses, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a new subway line, the IND Second Avenue Line, along Second Avenue. The first phase of the line, a four-station extension with three new stations being built and one existing station being renovated, is planned to run from 96th Street to the BMT 63rd Street Line at Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street, where the line will continue to 57th Street – Seventh Avenue and connect with the BMT Broadway Line there. Service will be provided by a northern extension of the Q train, but in later phases, the line will be extended north to 125th Street/Park Avenue in Harlem and south to Hanover Square in the Financial District, and a new T train will run its entire length.