Since 1797 Albany has served as the capital of the state. You could say that the city, thanks to its role in state politics and to its location—about 150 mi north of New York City and roughly the same distance from Montréal—is in the thick of things. The state is the largest employer in the city (population 100,000), which helps to keep the economy fairly stable.
The heart of the state government is Empire State Plaza, where tens of thousands of people work. The city's most prominent architectural features are the towers that dominate the plaza's marble expanses. The imposing state capitol, on the north end of the plaza, looks across the mall to the classical New York State Museum. Other fine architectural specimens are easily found, like the Romanesque City Hall. In addition to the many public buildings here are historic residences, good restaurants, and interesting shops. To the west is Washington Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and is the site of many annual festivals and events. To the east of the plaza is the Corning Preserve, a lively waterfront park.
As the city grew more prosperous in the late 1800s, wealthy residents built homes in Mansion Hill, today a historic district south of the plaza. Although the district's historic structures suffered neglect for decades, recent years have seen a spate of renovation, fueled in part by federal grants. Adding prestige to the neighborhood is the governor's residence on Eagle Street.