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All five boroughs came into existence with the creation of modern New York City in 1898, when New York County, Kings County, part of Queens County, and Richmond County were consolidated within one municipal government under a new city charter. All former municipalities within the newly consolidated city were eliminated.
New York City was originally confined to Manhattan Island and the smaller surrounding islands that formed New York County. As the city grew northward, it began annexing areas on the mainland, absorbing territory from Westchester County into New York County in 1874 (West Bronx) and 1895 (East Bronx). During the 1898 consolidation, this territory was organized as the Borough of the Bronx, though still part of New York County. In 1914, Bronx County was split off from New York County so that each borough was then coterminous with a county.
When the western part of Queens County was consolidated with New York City in 1898, that area became the Borough of Queens. In 1899, the remaining eastern section of Queens County was split off to form Nassau County, thereafter making the borough and county of Queens coextensive with each other.
New York City is often referred to collectively as the five boroughs, which can unambiguously refer to the city proper as a whole, 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.
The current 5 boroughs of Greater New York as they appeared in 1814. Bronx was in Westchester County, Queens County included modern Nassau County, Kings County had 6 towns, one of which was Brooklyn, and New York City is shown by hatching in lower Manhattan.
All five boroughs were created in 1898 during consolidation, when the city's current boundaries were established.
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 and Brooklyn are popularly referred to as "Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance, Jr.", or "Brooklyn D.A. Kenneth P. Thompson" by the media, they are technically and legally the district attorneys of New York County and Kings County, respectively. The same goes for Staten Island. 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.
In some document collections the boroughs used to be designated with a one-letter abbreviation: K for Brooklyn; M for Manhattan; Q for Queens; R for Staten Island, Richmond county; X for the Bronx.
^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 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."