Long before DUMBO became home to yuppies and became Eloi-ized, with its carousels and gourmet chocolate shoppe purveyors, it was one of Brooklyn’s hardest-working neighborhoods, with coffee and grocery importers, warehousing, cold storage, and corrugated box factories, for block after block. Many of the businesses were linked by the Jay Street Connecting Railroad, whose tracks are today called “trolley tracks” by area newbies.
The tracks were inlaid in brick streets that apparently had been pioneered in Belgium. Bricks like these were the primary form of street paving in NYC before macadam and blacktop replaced them, and whenever a street is reconstructed you can sometimes spot them underneath several layers of pavement.
Under the Bloomberg administration and Department of Transportation chief Janette Sadik-Khan, the city has become uncomfortable with certain areas of Belgian-blocked streets, especially uneven stretches of them that cause bicycle riders, walkers and even auto axles problems. DUMBO is just such an area.
Plymouth Street is the northernmost east-west through street in DUMBO and its Belgian blocks surrounding the JSCR tracks are especially uneven, as the concrete between the bricks has worn down.
The city has proposed to place evened-out faux Belgians that are more friendly to the extra traffic that has come up as DUMBO became a residential neighborhood.
A close-up view of a more uneven section of Belgian blocks and tracks.
Though the city is soliciting opinion on the faux bricks, make no mistake, the replacement is almost a done deal.
Adams and Plymouth Streets under the Manhattan Bridge. The Belgian blocks have remained for over a century because the city never got around to blacktopping the streets, which were mostly deserted for several years as the factories and warehouses gradually left and the neighborhood was slowly repopulated.
Adams Street’s Belgians are more evenly paved. Are they on their way out, too?
When I visited Baltimore’s Fell’s Point in the 1990s the brick streets reminded me of DUMBO. Will their character and history be replaced by anodyne fake bricks? It sure looks like it.