Public opinion surveys can not only take the pulse of our citizenry, but identify common ground to define a path to progress. Beautiful Newtonville, a non-profit organization committed to revitalizing Newtonville’s downtown, has garnered nearly 400 responses to its Revitalize Newtonville survey. By Jan. 1, our coalition aims to have polled over 5 percent of Newtonville’s roughly 9,200 residents age 14 and older. And this survey doesn’t gauge mercurial sentiment on the popularity of political candidates. It identifies the basic concerns of our residents on brick-and-mortar issues: The mix of Newtonville businesses, the effectiveness of parking, the utility of downtown sidewalks, and the village’s pedestrian appeal.
We’ve also obtained feedback in a separate survey from over three quarters of our downtown merchants as well as several property owners.
We’ve had support from elected officials, including Ward 2 Alderman Stephen Linsky, Chair of the City’s Long Term Planning Committee.
“The consensus Beautiful Newtonville builds through their surveys will have a formative and constructive influence on Newtonville’s future,” he told me.
Both the business and resident surveys focus on the village’s two main business districts: Walnut Street, spanning Newtonville Ave. to Washington Park, and Washington Street from roughly Lowell Ave to Harvard Street. Beautiful Newtonville hopes to help the village overcome the construction of the leg of the Massachusetts Turnpike in 1962 that obliterated several Newton residential and business areas, including what had been known as Newtonville Square.
By surveying residents and merchants, we’ve followed the advice of Chris Steele, Chair of the Newton Economic Development Commission, who observes that the surveys represent, “a great foundation to advance a reinvigorated Newtonville that works for all. It’s an approach that we should consider for the other Villages as well,” he said.
We plan to release the survey results in early 2013 to help inform a prospective Neighborhood Area Council representing the roughly 6,500 registered Newtonville voters. Beautiful Newtonville anticipates gathering the last of the required 20 percetn of registered Newtonville voter signatures by year-end to petition the Board of Alderman for a Newtonville Neighborhood Area Council election next November.
We discovered the advantages of forming a Neighborhood Area Council at Mayor Setti Warren’s December 2011 Village Summit, which emphasized that such a locally elected body could effectively represent village interests in collaboration with the City of Newton. According to Newton’s government web site, only two local villages, Newton Highlands and Newton Upper Falls, currently have Neighborhood Area Councils. Newtonville intends to be one of the next.
Our survey efforts don’t just aim to serve residents or a narrow interest group, but to unite a broad coalition of businesses, property owners, residents and local government. And long term, we hope to collaborate not only with the City and the board of Aldermen, but with all Newton villages.
Newtonville residents age 14 and older have a deadline to add their voices. Jan. 1 is the last day to take the Revitalize Newtonville Survey at: http://beautifulnewtonville.org/resident-survey/. I can’t think of an easier New Year’s resolution than for we Newtonvillers to spend ten minutes expressing our views on the future of our downtown.
Tim Stone, a Newtonville resident, is co-founder of Beautiful Newtonville, a local nonprofit organization.