All five boroughs came into existence with the consolidation of New York City in 1898, when New York County, Kings County, Queens County, and Richmond County consolidated into one municipal government. The former municipalities in Kings, Richmond, and most of Queens counties were abolished, though the counties themselves were retained. However, the five boroughs have not always been coextensive with their five respective counties.
Prior to consolidation, New York City and New York County were coterminous, originally consisting of Manhattan Island and smaller surrounding islands. As the city-county grew northward, it began annexing areas on the mainland, absorbing territory from Westchester County in two stages in 1874 and 1895. During the 1898 consolidation, this territory was organized as the borough of the Bronx, apart from the borough of Manhattan, though both boroughs still remained within New York County. In 1914, Bronx County was split off from New York County to match the borough.
Furthermore, not all of Queens County consolidated with New York City in 1898. For one year, Queens County contained an area within the city limits (the borough of Queens), as well as an eastern portion outside of the city limits. In 1899, this eastern territory was split off to form Nassau County, thereafter making the borough and county of Queens coterminous.
The borough of Manhattan is the economic, cultural, and administrative center of New York City.
New York City is often referred to collectively as the five boroughs; the term is used to refer to New York City as a whole unambiguously, avoiding confusion with any particular borough or with the Greater New York metropolitan area. The term is also used by politicians to counter a frequent focus on Manhattan and thereby to place all five boroughs on equal footing. In the same vein, the term outer boroughs refers to all of the boroughs excluding Manhattan, even though the geographic center of the city is along the Brooklyn–Queens border. All five boroughs were created in 1898 during consolidation, when the city's current boundaries were established.
Changes after 1898
The Bronx originally included parts of New York County outside of Manhattan that had previously been ceded by neighboring Westchester County in two stages; in 1874 and then following a referendum in 1894. Ultimately in 1914, the present-day separate Bronx County became the last county to be created in the State of New York.
The borough of Queens consists of what formerly was only the western part of a then-larger Queens County. In 1899, the three eastern towns of Queens County that had not joined the city the year before—the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead, and Oyster Bay—formally seceded from Queens County to form the new Nassau County.
The borough of Staten Island, concurrent with Richmond County, was officially the borough of Richmond until the name was changed in 1975 to reflect its common appellation, while leaving the name of the county unchanged.
Staten Island (Richmond County) is the most suburban in character of the five boroughs. Staten Island is connected to Brooklyn by the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and to Manhattan by way of the Staten Island Ferry, a free commuter ferry and popular tourist attraction which provides unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Lower Manhattan. In central Staten Island, the Staten Island Greenbelt spans approximately 2,500 acres (10 km2), including 28 miles (45 km) of walking trails and one of the last undisturbed forests in the city. Designated in 1984 to protect the island's natural lands, the Greenbelt comprises seven city parks.
Since 1914, each of New York City's five boroughs has been coextensive with a county of New York State – unlike most U.S. cities, which lie within a single county or extend partially into another county, constitute a county in themselves, or are completely separate and independent of any county.
Each borough is represented by a borough president. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island each have a Borough Hall with limited administrative functions. The Manhattan Borough President's office is situated in the Manhattan Municipal Building. The Bronx Borough President's office used to be in its own Bronx Borough Hall but has been in the Bronx County Courthouse for decades. Since the abolition of the Board of Estimate in 1990 (due to a 1989 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court), the borough presidents have minimal executive powers, and there is no legislative function within a borough. Executive functions in New York City are the responsibility of the Mayor of New York City, while legislative functions reside with the New York City Council. The borough presidents primarily act as spokesmen, advocates, and ceremonial leaders for their boroughs, have budgets from which they can allocate relatively modest sums of money to community organizations and projects, and appoint the members of the 59 largely advisory community boards in the city's various neighborhoods. The Brooklyn and Queens borough presidents also appoint trustees to the local public library systems in those boroughs.
Being coextensive with an individual county, each borough also elects a district attorney, as does every other county of New York State. While the district attorneys of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island are popularly referred to as such by the media (e.g., "Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance, Jr.", or "Brooklyn D.A. Kenneth P. Thompson"), they are technically and legally the district attorneys of New York County, Kings County and Richmond County, respectively. There is no such distinction made for the district attorneys of the other two counties, Queens and the Bronx, since these boroughs share the respective counties' names. Because the five district attorneys are, technically speaking, state officials (since the counties are considered to be arms of the state government), rather than officials of the city government, they are not subject to the term limitations that govern other New York City officials such as the mayor, the New York City Public Advocate, members of the city council, or the borough presidents. Some civil court judges also are elected on a borough-wide basis, although they generally are eligible to serve throughout the city.
^Bacharach, Jacqueline; and Barrales, Ruben. Growth Within Bounds, p. 197. California Commission on Local Governance for the 21st Century, DIANE Publishing, 2000. ISBN9780756706319. Accessed September 21, 2016.
^Kaufman, Michael T. "Council Weighs Making 'Staten Island' Official", The New York Times, August 28, 1974. Accessed September 21, 2016. "Yesterday a committee of the City Council sought to right matters with a resolution that, if adopted by the full Council and approved by the Mayor, would have the borough's name officially changed to Staten Island.... The resolution only affects the name of the borough. The county would remain Richmond, in the way that the borough of Manhattan is the county of New York, and Brooklyn is the county of Kings."
^Purdum, Todd S. "Political memo; An Embattled City Hall Moves to Brooklyn", The New York Times, February 22, 1992. Accessed August 23, 2017. ""Leaders in all of them fear that recent changes in the City Charter that shifted power from the borough presidents to the City Council have diminished government's recognition of the sense of identity that leads people to say they live in the Bronx, and to describe visiting Manhattan as 'going to the city.'"
^Sorrentino, Christopher (September 16, 2007). "When He Was Seventeen". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2007. "In 1980 there were still the remains of the various downtown revolutions that had reinvigorated New York's music and art scenes and kept Manhattan in the position it had occupied since the 1940s as the cultural center of the world."
^Holusha, John. "Commercial Property / The Jersey Riverfront; On the Hudson's West Bank, Optimistic Developers", The New York Times, October 11, 1998. Accessed May 25, 2007. "'That simply is out of the question in midtown,' he said, adding that some formerly fringe areas in Midtown South that had previously been available were filled up as well. Given that the buildings on the New Jersey waterfront are new and equipped with the latest technology and just a few stops on the PATH trains from Manhattan, they become an attractive alternative. 'It's the sixth borough', he said."