Perception often trumps reality when people consider geographic relationships. The Twelve Mile Circle blog enjoys exploring these disconnects — the remote corner of southwestern Virginia comes to mind — so along those same lines let’s explore the placement of Buffalo, New York. Here’s a trick question made somewhat more obvious by the fact that I’ve chosen to highlight it, but suspend that knowledge for just a moment to ponder this: Is Buffalo closer to Detroit, Michigan or to New York City?
Buffalo rests in the far western corner of the state, a stone’s throw from Niagara Falls, a long distance from the opposite perimeter. But how distant? So distant that Buffalo is indeed closer to Detroit, Michigan than to New York City, or even to its own state capital in Albany.
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The mind naturally wants to think of New York
as a single geographic unit, which of course it is, but then fails to grasp the significance of its overall size. New York
is a single state so naturally its cities are “close together.” Michigan
is another state entirely so its cities must be “far away.” New York
is also considered an Eastern state while Michigan
is Midwestern so there’s an additional perception issue that relates to separate geographic regions. Finally it doesn’t help to see a chunk of Canada stuck squarely between the two either. It’s not really an optical illusion but perhaps more like a mental
illusion. When distances are plotted on a map it breaks the illusion. Then it’s easy to observe that Detroit is indeed closer to Buffalo. In fact Detroit is 216 miles from Buffalo, while Albany is 260 and New York City is 293.