NEWTON — For the last 28 years, Don and Janet Scope have looked out onto Washington Street from their cozy “Putting on the Knitz” storefront, watching businesses come and go and the local landmarks change.
The brick CVS pharmacy building across the street, Don said, used to be covered in turquoise siding — “a horror,” he laughed, but an easy way to give people directions. The Scopes are happy here in this friendly village, surrounded by bright skeins of wool, giving free knitting lessons.
“West Newton has a particular character, I can’t explain it,” said Don, a slight man with an easy smile, pausing for a long second. “It’s very comfortable.”
Maybe too much character in some places: the sidewalks are worn, the brickwork cracked and patched with black pavement. Benches gray from years of use are spotted with mold, empty patches of mulch that once held trees dot the sidewalk, and blue telephone booths, long since emptied of their phones, hunker abandoned near the bus stop. Parking is scarce, and the traffic signals along Washington Street are out of sync.
But West Newton is about to get a face lift from the city.
“We’re trying to make the villages the best they can be,” said Ana Gonzalez, Newton’s director of community engagements, who in June kicked off efforts in West Newton with a community meeting for residents and business owners to talk about infrastructure and beautification fixes, and followed it up with a walking tour to identify specific trouble spots and eyesores.
The effort, she said, is still in its earliest stages, and the city is still working to identify short- and long-term projects. There is no price tag yet, she said, but the funding will come from the city budget.
West Newton is the latest village to be targeted by the city for improvements: the community engagement team came together about a year and a half ago, said Gonzalez, and is in the process of completing upgrades in the city’s Newtonville and Nonantum sections.
“It’s a little bit of everything, it’s not just beautification,” she said. “It’s infrastructure, streetscape improvements, parking issues, traffic calming.”
For the next four to six months, she said, the team will work with the village to determine what projects to tackle; next up, the city will focus on Auburndale or Newton Corner. Eventually, each of Newton’s 13 villages will get some TLC.
“When I took office, it was so clear to me that the village concept was an asset to the city,” said Mayor Setti Warren, who is running for reelection this fall. “If we could increase the quality of life within these villages at the ground level, our residents would be able to take full advantage of that, and Newton would be a stronger city.”
Warren is planning a roundtable for West Newton business owners this week as part of a series of sit-down talks he is holding for each village.
Chief among the concerns for businesses and residents in West Newton are traffic and parking. West Newton is centered on busy Washington Street, and is a popular cut-through for drivers coming off the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“West Newton is almost like a four-lane highway,” said John O’Hara, one of the owners of Paddy’s Pub on Elm Street.
“It’s not like one of the quaint villages.”
The intersections, he said, are tricky for both drivers and pedestrians, and ever since the MBTA began charging $4 a day for parking in the lot it owns in West Newton, parked cars have been clogging side streets.
William Paille, director of Newton’s Transportation Division, said the city is working on a plan to make the traffic signals along Washington Street communicate with each other so that traffic flows more smoothly; already, he said, workers have replaced the sensors in the road’s surface that respond when a car pulls up. The city may also install traffic cameras.
“It’s a complicated system, and we’re trying to apply a simple solution,” said Paille.
As for parking, he said, the city is working on a couple of fronts, developing a parking plan and trying to partner with the MBTA to reduce the fees for the lot, or replace the flat fee with long-term parking meters, pay stations, or parking passes.
On a recent walk along Washington Street, Gonzalez and Paille pointed out trouble spots: a stone drinking fountain so old that the basin has dropped out, leaving rusted metal pipes; a mystery slab of concrete that they hypothesized may have once been a bench; a broken light pole covered with a parking cone.
The city will repave streets and sidewalks, work with the police to reduce speeding, replace worn trash cans, fix street lights that have gone out, and plant trees and flowers — the community engagement team is even taking suggestions from residents on what types of blooms they want to see.
Business owners are hopeful that the combination of smoother traffic flow, easier parking, trees and flowers will result in increased foot traffic.
“I think more people will come into the area,” said O’Hara. “If you’ve ever driven by someplace and said, ‘Wow, that place looks wonderful, I want to stop and see what’s going on.’”