Look Down! (Belgian Block Streetscapes)
Another of Meatpacking’s most distinctive features is its preponderance of Belgian blocks, which add texture and tactility to the neighborhood (you can literally feel them under-feet). Belgian block is differentiated from cobblestones by their tooled, flattened edges, whereas cobbles stones have natural, rounded sides. Belgian block became more common street pavers in the 1870s, an industrial material for the industrial age. Their standard shape of roughly 4-5 inches was proportioned to the size of a horseshoe, allowing horses to get a good toe-hold on the street, which was helpful in hauling heavy loads. Belgian Blocks are hard, durable and impermeable, making them an ideal for waterfront and industrial neighborhoods, like the Meatpacking. Belgian blocks began to be replaced by asphalt in the 1890s. In 1949 Manhattan had approximately 140 miles of Belgian block streets, today less than 15 miles remain.
While the stones themselves are durable, Belgian block streets can be difficult to maintain. In keeping with Landmarks Preservation Commission standards, the Gansevoort Market Historic District has worked to maintain and improve its Belgian block streets, including making them compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. As the Belgian block streets are resurfaced, the stones are removed, sorted, graded, and reused wherever then can, so that the streets are smooth enough for use by people of all types of mobility.
This rehabilitation project was completed in 2019, bringing Belgian block from the industrial age to the age of technology and accessibility. The streets and plazas now form one New York’s most memorable and photogenic pedestrian experiences, providing wonderful places for people to shop, meet, gather, and enjoy the neighborhood.
Gansevoort Market Historic District: State and National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (2007).
Gansevoort Market Historic District: Designation Report. New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (2003).
The High Line website
Off the Grid. Village Preservation blog.