A Study of New York City’s Belgian Block Heritage

Toward Accessible

Historic Streetscapes

Prepared for the Historic Districts Council

Belgian block streets are still found in every corner of New York, sometimes paving an entire street or other times, only being revealed by some pavement which has worn off, revealing the roadbeds of the past. These streets are found both inside and outside of designated historic districts. In historic districts, these historic pavers are protected as part of the sense of place just as much as the architecture.  Historic neighborhoods like SoHo, TriBeCa, the Gansevoort Market and DUMBO are just a few places around town where these types of streets characterize the look and feel of the place.


Although protected features in historic districts, many of these stones are being eroded from the streets. They are ripped up, discarded and paved over by utility companies who incorrectly complete their work. Each stone is supposed to be replaced in kind, but instead, the patches are paved over with cementitious materials which have pock-mocked the streets. This practice has been especially prevalent in DUMBO, where the rails and abundance of historic pavings give this former industrial neighborhood its character. The DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance and HDC were able to bring this important issue to the attention of Councilmember Steve Levin and, ultimately the Landmarks Preservation Commission. These efforts culminated in the creation of a professional report, Toward Accessible Historic Streetscapes.


HDC hired Denisha Williams and Jeff Byles of Being Here Design to study New York City’s historic street pavements and write this report, the first ever of its kind. In the new report, our city’s historic roadbeds, sidewalks, crosswalks and even embedded train rails are examined.  This thorough report identifies past and present solutions to our historic streets and examines the feasibility of them in the context of ADA.


We are excited and proud to release this report and encourage you to have a read!



2 Responses to “A Study of New York City’s Belgian Block Heritage”
  1. Donna Hoffman says:

    We always called them cobblestones. Was that an incorrect appellation?

    • Historic Districts Council says:

      “With the term Belgian block, we distinguish these stones from an earlier paving material, cobblestones, which are untooled, naturally rounded stones that generally predated the use of tooled granite in city pavements. Cobblestones were typically used up to about 1860. “

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