The Newton Business Improvement Association’s fourth annual general meeting last week centred around “optimism we have for the future” said director Philip Aguirre.
Held at Newton’s Hollywood 3 Cinema on Feb. 22, Aguirre said it was an opportunity for the area’s businesses to “reflect on where we’ve come.”
While the area has seen tragedy at the local hockey arena, a spike in gang violence and has not been immune to the growing opioid epidemic, “we have also grown as a community,” Aguirre told the Now-Leader.
“Lots has changed over the last five years, and a lot of that optimism and positive results we’ve seen are because of the BIA and the work that we’re doing,” he said. “One of the big changes in Newton has been the BIA and what we’re trying to do here: Focusing on new programs and initiatives, and bringing the community together. Before we were here, we were disjointed, we were isolated.”
He said 2017 was a year with “lots of positives” in Newton and “the results speak for themselves.”
Aguirre noted 2017 saw an 18 per cent drop in overall crime in Newton, according to Surrey RCMP statistics, including a 13 per cent drop in violent crime, an 18 per cent decline in break-and-enters (and overall property crimes), a 12 per cent drop in shoplifting and 17 per cent fewer mischief files.
In fact, Newton saw crime drop in all categories but two in 2017, compared to the year prior: Arsons rose by 26 per cent (from 38 to 48) and sexual offences increased by 62 per cent (from 78 to 126).
Aguirre said a double digit crime decrease in three years is an “excellent justification” for why the BIA was formed to begin with.
“Safety has always been the main focus of the Newton BIA,” he noted.
Last year, he said the BIA’s Community Safety Patrol generated 3,929 files, 1,592 used needles were cleaned up, 870 pieces of graffiti were removed, and a whopping 8,115 pounds of garbage was cleaned up.
While it’s important to celebrate the positives, Aguirre said Newton needs “better results” from all levels of government.
Aguirre also highlighted attendance at several Newton BIA-hosted events in 2017: an estimated 4,500 people came out to enjoy the Newton Days event, 600 people to the BIA’s Groundhog Day event, and 145 people attended the inaugural State of Newton, which he called a “significant success.”
He noted 1,000 tulips were planted in Newton Town Centre in 2017. Several place-making initiatives were alive and well, such as a giant chess board being set up for passersby, and a mural was also painted last year.
Visible when driving down King George Boulevard, looking east down 72nd Avenue, the mural was painted by graffiti and hip-hop artist Danny Fernandez and aims to showcase Newton’s history.
Aguirre said two more murals are planned for this spring in the same general area: One, a graffiti wall, and the other an Indigenous mural.
It’s all in an effort to bring more “vibrancy and colour” the area, he said.
“Place-making, area enhancement, beautification, is a big part of what we wanna do. I always talk about vibrancy – how do you make an area attractive to the people that are living here? Can we plant more tulips? Put more murals out? Can we activate space with tables and chairs and umbrella? Can we put out giant chess boards and Jenga and giant Connect 4 and make it inviting?”
Aguirre proudly said Newton is good at “keeping it weird.”
“We don’t always have to take ourselves so seriously, we can have a lot of fun while working,” he said. “I personally, I’m here at the BIA because I love giving back to the community and I love having a lot of fun when I’m doing it, I like to bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy to the job and doing weird events is part of that. If you want to do a stuffy, old, dry networking event where everyone’s there with their shovel and hard hat, cutting a ribbon, that’s not what lives area about or what the community is about. Community is about celebrating ground hog day with a stuffed animal or doing poetry or painting rocks with Friends of the Grove. We have all these unique personalities in our community and we need to celebrate that.
“Who wants to be boring? he laughed. “We don’t. We want to be vibrant and full of colour and music and people.”
Looking ahead to the year, the BIA’s annual report outlines several events, including Newton Talks (held at the Greek Corner at noon on the second Thursday of every month, registration at newtonbia.eventbrite.com), the second annual State of Newton, Newton Days in July and Spooktacular Newton for Halloween in October.
According to its annual report, the BIA plans to spend $175,000 of its $522,450 budget on its Community Safety Patrol in 2018 and another $2,000 on other safety initiatives; $187,250 on administration including wages, benefits and rental of office space; $71,000 on area enhancement including $41,000 for its graffiti program, $18,000 for Team Tidy and $12,000 for other enhancement projects.
A total of $67,500 is budgeted for events, $5,700 for marketing and $14,000 for government relationships.
The Newton Business Improvement Association is a group of approximately 550 businesses and property owners in the town centre.