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The Mast-Head: Village on a Tear

Wed, 05/26/2021 - 19:33

A few issues ago, I wrote, half jokingly, about Belgian blocks and how Village Hall replaced the old-fashioned wood and iron hoop enclosures around the Newtown Lane street trees. Since then, I have been wondering what it is exactly that bothers me about the Belgian blocks in general, not just how goofy they seem to me as part of the village landscape.

East Hampton Village officials have been on a tear, sprucing up the business district. Among their other orders were changing the paint on the lampposts from green to black and removing an ivy-covered hurricane fence that stood at the edge of Herrick Park, opening the view from the parking lot, but also risking disaster, if a car jumped the curb and raced through a youth soccer game. I assumed that bollards or at least some split-rail fence might go in, but so far nothing of the sort has appeared. And different, too, are the Christmas lights on Hook Mill, once a special holiday treat, now left on year round and losing their joyous appeal.

Belgian blocks came into fashion during one or the other of the real estate booms, though I can’t be sure when. First as driveway aprons, then subdivision curbs. They were not something familiar here at all, but they caught on. Not everyone opted for them, of course, but they became a kind of status symbol — the homeowner was of a classy cut.

I have come to the conclusion that it is the blocks’ Botoxed look that irks me. East Hampton’s sense of place, that important but ineffable quality of realness, feels diminished. Tradition, a certain look, the choice of building materials, not overbuilding, were part of that. Just as houses have become monstrous, Belgian blocks take the place of the familiar, the quirky, the little things that made East Hampton special.

The shining-up is not limited to the streetscapes. Landlords increase rents and mom-and-pop businesses make way for corporate outposts. The village imposes new parking costs perhaps intentionally, like the Belgian blocks, intended to increase the air of exclusivity. Let the poor shop in Riverhead!

Often we don’t realize we value something until it’s gone. It turned out that I liked the funky village tree boxes, which had been the way they were since about the end of the Victorian era, and I liked what they stood for.

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