NEWTON — How do you clean up a street that’s been a hot spot for prostitution for decades?
In Newton, businesses hope a dog park they call Bark Park is the answer.
Newton BIA director Philip Aguirre said 70A Avenue just off of King George Boulevard behind the Gateway bingo site has been known for prostitution for some time and has been a “magnet for drug use and public intoxication.”
It’s hoped the park will attract residents, focusing eyes on the street in an area some have been avoiding.
“More people on the street means that the Johns will feel uncomfortable with the environment,” said Aguirre.
“The local residents have dealt with this problem for a long time and it is about time that we provide their streets with a safer environment. If children grow up exposed to a negative surrounding then this can become a normal interaction. I think we can do better.”
The conversation began about a year and a half ago when Value Group acquired several lots surrounding the street.
With no plans to develop for several years, the idea to do something with the dormant properties was born.
The BIA, along with the community, has since been brainstorming ways to “activate” the street.
“We have to start somewhere – and we have to start with the root problems,” said Aguirre. “There will be massive redevelopment for Newton over the next 10 years, we want to involve both sides of the street. We need vision, but we also have to do grassroots movements. That’s what this is.”
Aguirre noted patrols happen often on 70A Avenue and outreach services are offered through the city and RCMP. The BIA’s Team Tidy also picks up garbage regularly.
“The Newton BIA has been advocating for a multi-layer approach for safety in the town centre since it was created in the fall of 2014. The general concept of the broken window theory applies. If you can clean up the garbage, graffiti, public intoxication and prostitution you can change the perception of Newton and create a culture of energy and pride,” said Aguirre.
City council recently approved $3,000 for the Bark Park project and it’s expected to be completed this summer.
Colleen Kerr, Surrey’s Crime Reduction Strategy manager, said she hopes this initiative can “start the process of change.”
She called the initiative a good news “community-building” story.
“Anything we do here is temporary. The landowner will be developing it in three to five years potentially, but for now it can be changed into anything,” said Kerr.
It’s a model she hopes to see utilized in other areas – bringing developers and community together to reinvigorate problem properties while they sit waiting for development.
Aguirre echoed Kerr’s comments.
“Vacant lots are a reality in every city,” he said. “We can choose to utilize these spaces as a positive in our communities and activate otherwise wasted space. Community gardens, public art, BMX parks and temporary parks are all possible uses of vacant lots.
“All it takes is a few motivated people to make things happen,” said Aguirre.