SURREY â€” Newton has a new â€“ and passionate â€“ voice working to better its future.
â€œIâ€™m going to be demanding change, Iâ€™m going to make change. Iâ€™m not just going to wait for it to happen,â€ said Philip Aguirre, owner of The Old Surrey Restaurant and executive director of the Newton Business Improvement Association.
While the group officially opened its office on Sept. 1, itâ€™s been two years in the making, and Aguirre has been on board since day one.
The 337 businesses that exist in the Newton Town Centre are now united through the BIA, he said, adding â€œweâ€™re one voice now, and weâ€™re much stronger that way.â€
â€œNewton needed this office to speak for the community because weâ€™ve been forgotten,â€ he said.
Now that the BIA has set up shop, itâ€™s time to get to work, Aguirre said. The group is focusing on four pillars that they say will push the community in the right direction: safety, area enhancement, lobbying government, as well as marketing and events.
He envisions a plethora of community events for the area. Currently, Newton only has one event per year â€“ the Newton Community Festival held in the summer.
â€œWe need farmers markets and movie nights and a food truck programâ€¦. Right now, people are going elsewhere.â€
He wants to attract Newton residents to â€œwork, play and liveâ€ in the community.
Aguirre is even considering a drive-in movie night at the Kingâ€™s Cross Shopping Centre.
â€œWe just want more events, more things to get people excited about their community because right now, thereâ€™s a low level of excitement in Newton.â€
Going deeper, Aguirre said thereâ€™s a need to rebrand Newton.
â€œI take East Van as an example. East Van had a horrible reputation and they owned that and they came out on the other side and now people are very proud to be living in East Van. They have tattoos on it. Do I want to see every 15-year-old with a Newton tattoo? Maybe not,â€ he said with a chuckle. â€œBut I want that level of ownership of the community.â€
He noted that East Van has a gateway feature, and said heâ€™d like to see one for Newton.
â€œWhen you come into a community, a town centre, and they have the proper banners, and they have the proper beautification, flowers and itâ€™s all a seamless brought together concept, thatâ€™s what Newton needs.â€
Philip Aguirre says change in Newton won’t happen overnight. (Photo: ADRIAN MACNAIR)
When it comes to revitalization and redevelopment, thereâ€™s much work to be done, he noted.
â€œOne of the toughest things about Newton is weâ€™ve been in a holding pattern for 25 years because weâ€™ve been promised rapid transit since the King George Station was built and investors are having a hard time moving forward because they donâ€™t know one way the other. Newton is ripe for redevelopment, we just need to kickstart it. Letâ€™s get going. Thatâ€™s my job â€“ I scream, I yell, I scratch, I fight and Iâ€™m here for Newton.â€
He said Newton has watched as other communities have seen enhancements, such as community centres.
Aguirre wants to see movement on the cityâ€™s Newton Town Centre Plan. Specifically, heâ€™d like to see redevelopment of the Newton Wave Pool and arena.
â€œThe tough part about that community plan is nothing can actually get finished until light rail is decided on,â€ he said.
Aguirre went on to say density is inevitable in Newtonâ€™s core as it comes into its own.
â€œBut itâ€™s going to take time,â€ he said, noting City Centreâ€™s transformation didnâ€™t occur overnight.
Aguirre acknowledged the social issue is a difficult one, and while itâ€™s not within the BIAâ€™s mandate, he said â€œweâ€™re one community and social issues are a part of that.â€
â€œThis office would like input on that,â€ he added.
He noted Newtonâ€™s been home to a lot of social services and that it is â€œsaturated enough.â€
Through the election campaign, crime in Newton has been top of mind and Aguirre said heâ€™ll be working to improve safety in the neighbourhood.
The BIA is working with the RCMP, and the Commissionaires that have been hired, to see if the program can be enhanced. As well, it is working with Surrey Crime Prevention Society and is considering operating a bike patrol in the future.
The group is also launching a business watch initiative.
â€œLike any community, youâ€™re only as strong as when youâ€™re organized,â€ Aguirre said. â€œThere are safety alerts, and anything the RCMP passes along we can also pass along to our members. Thatâ€™s important.â€
As well, the group is looking at CCTV, graffiti removal and auto theft programs for the area.
Looking to the future, Aguirre said he simply wants people to be proud of Newton.
He certainly is. His family has operated the Old Surrey Restaurant in Newton for some 40 years.
â€œNow that weâ€™ve finished with the election and weâ€™ve finished with the negativity of Surrey, letâ€™s get back onto the positiveâ€¦. Weâ€™ve been only hurting ourselves every time weâ€™re in front of a camera saying how bad it is in Surrey because itâ€™s a great place,â€ he said.
The initiative thatâ€™s sprung up in â€œThe Groveâ€ near Newtonâ€™s bus loop speaks to the energy he hopes to see mobilize in the community.
From a chessboard being carved into a tree stump, to community events, to eyeballs on trees, a handful of locals got together to bring positive energy to the grove, located just steps away from the location of the brutal attack that took the life of Julie Paskall.
â€œThatâ€™s your grassroots movement â€“ where people are passionate about Newtonâ€¦. Thatâ€™s what you want, you want people who are passionate about your community. When that happens, anything is possible,â€ Aguirre said.
For more information call 604-593-2294.