Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


Juliana Maantay

Subject Categories

Demography, Population, and Ecology | Geography


elevation, socioeconomic


The role that topography has played in the development of New York City is essential to understanding its present urban form and foreseeing its changes. Geographers and economists have generally agreed that for cities in the United States, socioeconomic status increases with land elevation. This seemingly simple relationship between elevation and class, however, is complicated by factors such as technological innovations, economic shifts, politics, cultural perceptions, and the idiosyncrasies of cities and the neighborhoods within them. The lack of comprehensive research in this area coupled with conflicting findings warranted further exploration into the complex and changing relationships between elevation and social class. This longitudinal study utilized a mixed methods GIS approach to reveal historical relationships between land elevation and socioeconomic status in New York City, and explain factors that may mediate these relationships.

This study departed from the traditional use of regression results by mapping standardized residuals clusters, which were found to be an extremely efficient way of pinpointing anomalous areas that would be appropriate case study areas for in-depth, qualitative analysis. Relative elevation was found to be a better determinant of socioeconomic status than absolute elevation for three out of ten analysis years examined. The presence of urban fringe uses on high elevation land was affirmed. The persistence of historical settlement patterns was also affirmed, and it was found that this persistence was able to withstand technological, economic, cultural, and significant physical topography changes. Public policy, such as through the use of zoning tools and eminent domain, was the most influential force in the transformation of historical land use and settlement patterns. Climate change is poised to become another powerful force in the transformation of cities, and should be incorporated into future studies that examine the relationship between physical topography and residential or land use patterns.