The neighborhood is bordered by Broadway to the east, the North River (part of the Hudson River) to the west, Houston Street to the south, and 14th Street to the north, and roughly centered on Washington Square Park and New York University. The neighborhoods surrounding it are the East Village and NoHo to the east, SoHo and Hudson Square to the south, and Chelsea and Union Square to the north. The East Village was formerly considered part of the Lower East Side and has never been considered a part of Greenwich Village. The western part of Greenwich Village is known as the West Village; the dividing line of its eastern border is debated. Some believe it starts at Seventh Avenue and its southern extension, a border to the west of which the neighborhood changes substantially in character and becomes heavily residential. Others say the West Village starts one avenue further east at Sixth Avenue, where the east-west streets in the city's grid plan start to orient themselves on an angle to the traditionally perpendicular grid plan occupying most of Manhattan. The Far West Village is another sub-neighborhood of Greenwich Village that is bordered on its west by the Hudson River and on its east by Hudson Street. Greenwich Village is located in New York's 10th congressional district, New York's 25th State Senate district, New York's 66th State Assembly district, and New York City Council's 3rd district.
Into the early 20th century, Greenwich Village was distinguished from the upper-class neighborhood of Washington Square—based on the major landmark of Washington Square Park or Empire Ward in the 19th century.
Encyclopædia Britannica's 1956 article on "New York (City)" states (under the subheading "Greenwich Village") that the southern border of the Village is Spring Street, reflecting an earlier understanding. The newer district of SoHo has since encroached on this border.
The intersection of West 4th and West 12th Streets
Street signs at intersection of West 10th and West 4th Streets
As Greenwich Village was once a rural, isolated hamlet to the north of the 17th century European settlement on Manhattan Island, its street layout is more organic than the planned grid pattern of the 19th century grid plan (based on the Commissioners' Plan of 1811). Greenwich Village was allowed to keep the 18th century street pattern of what is now called the West Village: areas that were already built up when the plan was implemented, west of what is now Greenwich Avenue and Sixth Avenue, resulted in a neighborhood whose streets are dramatically different, in layout, from the ordered structure of the newer parts of Manhattan.
Many of the neighborhood's streets are narrow and some curve at odd angles. This is generally regarded as adding to both the historic character and charm of the neighborhood. In addition, as the meandering Greenwich Street used to be on the Hudson River shoreline, much of the neighborhood west of Greenwich Street is on landfill, but still follows the older street grid. When Sixth and Seventh Avenues were built in the early 20th century, they were built diagonally to the existing street plan, and many older, smaller streets had to be demolished.
Unlike the streets of most of Manhattan above Houston Street, streets in the Village typically are named rather than numbered. While some of the formerly named streets (including Factory, Herring and Amity Streets) are now numbered, they still do not always conform to the usual grid pattern when they enter the neighborhood. For example, West 4th Street runs east-west across most of Manhattan, but runs north-south in Greenwich Village, causing it to intersect with West 10th, 11th, and 12th Streets before ending at West 13th Street.
A large section of Greenwich Village, made up of more than 50 northern and western blocks in the area up to 14th Street, is part of a Historic District established by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The District's convoluted borders run no farther south than 4th Street or St. Luke's Place, and no farther east than Washington Square East or University Place. Redevelopment in that area is severely restricted, and developers must preserve the main façade and aesthetics of the buildings during renovation.
Most of the buildings of Greenwich Village are mid-rise apartments, 19th century row houses, and the occasional one-family walk-up, a sharp contrast to the high-rise landscape in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.