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DUMBO — historyland or Disneyland?

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More of DUMBO’s charming Belgian block streets will be restored as part of a just announced $20-million project — but some locals are worried the roadwork will be more “Disney World” than historic neighborhood.

On Tuesday, city officials announced another infusion of cash for a reconstruction project that began two years ago with the refurbishment of cobbled Washington and Water streets.

“The charm of DUMBO is in its historic character,” said Alexandria Sica, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District. “Now we’re finally getting the money to make it look like a historic village and give these bumpy streets some TLC.”

But for some residents and history buffs, the stone job is “historically inaccurate” and too expensive. On Washington Street, for instance, some new stones were placed down the center of the street to make it more bike friendly. And on Water Street, the blocks are turned at a different angle for a bike path.

“They can justify this until their heads fall off but there’s nothing historic about this — it looks like Disney World,” said Doreen Gallo of the DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, agreed.

“The city hasn’t done great jobs of maintaining the historic pavements throughout the city,” Bankoff said. “Most of the time, it ends up costing a lot more money. They’re ripping everything up without numbering it and retaining historic materials.”

City officials defended their restoration work.

“The street was restored with the original Belgian blocks, which were removed, cleaned and stored while underground work was completed,” said Craig Chin, a spokesman for the Department of Design and Construction, the agency in charge of the revamp.

Belgian blocks are made of granite, first used in Belgium, but quarried in New England. Such paving stones were widely used in the mid-1800s in commercial areas including DUMBO and Lower Manhattan because they withstood the wear of carts and carriages. They were phased out by the end of the century when the city began using less-expensive concrete.

Since then, periodic road repairs have left many old-style streets pockmarked with tar, asphalt and cement patches.

Two summers ago, the city began reconstructing Water and Washington streets to prevent people from tripping over the perilous, uneven paving. That work should be completed by the end of the month.

The latest DUMBO revamp will include Main Street and sections of Plymouth, Adams and Water streets east of the Manhattan Bridge. The project will also widen the popular Pearl Street Triangle plaza by demapping Anchorage Place and paving it with Belgian blocks as well.

The work will begin in 2013, city officials said.

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

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Reader Feedback

Robert from Dumbo says:
I just don't understand why we are spending $20 Million more on these streets. I don't know how much was spent so far but based on how long it has taken it must be plenty. These amounts are staggering. I just don't know how anyone can justify these expenses. I can't wait for the first repairs by Con Ed or Verizon which require digging this stone work up. As in the past they will patch it poorly by either sloppy stone re-installation or a tar patch. After a few years we will see this crazy investment has gone to waste. And a note: Historically these streets were dirt at one time... and mud on rainy days.

Another thing. Have you noticed the roadway being dug up underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on Front st. They are making the sidewalk wider. What a waste again. I would suggest planting trees and having some earth in this space. It would green that ugly section and help with water runoff and flooding issues. The trees and bushes would maybe help with the insane noise leverls down there as well. Just covering it with cement is just terrible, thoughtless and sad.
Nov. 4, 2011, 7:20 am
Brent from Windsor Terrace says:
Yeah the costs are high but Dumbo draws in a lot of money and they can afford it, Washington st looks amazing, they did a great job.
Nov. 4, 2011, 8:07 am
judahspechal from bedstuy says:
20mil = cops?, fireman or teacher. Oh stupid me, we're broke.
Nov. 4, 2011, 8:29 am
Historian from DUMBO says:
I believe we must maintain historic accuracy at all costs, so ban the cars, bring back the streetcars and railways, get rid of the condos, bring back the manufacturing jobs and warehouses, get rid of the park, close the carousel, and kick out the Starbucks! All those historically inaccurate street signs and parking meters should probably go, too. While we're at it, why is there no place to tie up a horse in the neighborhood?

You know what? Let's also stop calling it DUMBO, since that name only came about in 1978.

It's high time we preserved the true history of the neighborhood before people like Doreen Gallo and Simeon Bankoff moved in.
Nov. 4, 2011, 8:47 am
Narrator from Dumbo says:
As someone that works in dumbo and spends a fair amount of free time in the parks as well, I am really pleased that they are restoring the cobble streets rather than just tearing them out and replacing them with asphalt. DUMBO has a historic feel as many of the buildings from the turn of the century remain and are being repurposed. In the past, this neighborhood has been cut off from many other parts of Brooklyn and suffered. With the continuing renaissance, I believe that this investment in restoring and beautifying the neighborhood will pay off in spades. Tourists will continue to increasingly visit, more films and television shows will (ugghh) continue to utilize the area for shooting, and more business will find it a great place to relocate.
My only disappointment with this restoration is that while they are keeping the old rails embedded; that the formerly smooth stones have been "restored" and look like brand new cut blocks without any of the smooth patina of age that really gives them character
Nov. 4, 2011, 4:34 pm
Andrew from Williamsburg says:
Bankoff is ridiculous. I understand the importance of historic preservation, but numbering the blocks to put each one back in its place? This is a neighborhood, not a museum piece.

However, I think it would be more helpful for the Brooklyn Paper to state the per-mile or per-area cost of restoring the streets of DUMBO. Whether twenty million dollars goes toward restoring one street or ten streets, we don't know from this article. The article also doesn't state whether paving the same area with asphalt would be more cost-effective than paving with Belgian blocks over the lifespan of the street, so there's no way to know whether the city is actually saving money by reusing the stones.
Nov. 4, 2011, 11:07 pm
Charles from Bay Ridge says:
DUMBO did loan its name from the title of a Disney film...
Nov. 5, 2011, 6:18 am

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