Looking for problem solvers: Aker outlines City’s new strategic plan

By Mark Squibb | Vol. 7 No. 4 (February 28 2019)

A Hackathon, a technological innovation park, and development on Kenmount Hill: all ingredients in Mount Pearl's 2019-2023 strategic plan.

Mount Pearl Mayor Dave Aker presented the plan, entitled 'On the Horizon,' at a Mount Pearl - Paradise Chamber of Commerce Luncheon last week.

The plan highlighted seven strategic pillars: digital transformation, citizen engagement, economic development, urban renewal, enhanced service delivery, sustainable infrastructure, food governance, and investing in our people.

In his address, Mayor Aker noted some highlights in the plan, in particular a proposed "Innovation Park" to be located on the site of the old Mount Pearl Swimming Pool on Stapleton Road.

"We want to offer our services to the residents of Mount Pearl in a smarter way," Aker explained in an interview afterwards. "We want to also grow our city by attracting young families. We want to be innovative."

Last year, the City placed a bid in the Smart Cities Challenge. The submission was called A1Next and included a state-of-the-art innovation park.

Though the bid was not a finalist, council decided to push on with a scaled back project, settling for an innovation centre housing four to six start up projects focusing on developing solutions to municipal and provincial challenges.

"We'd like to attract people who are problem solvers, big thinkers, who can offer us something we don't already have at the table," Aker explained in an interview afterwards. Modern technology, he added, can be used to tackle a variety of municipal problems, ranging from improving garbage collection, to road line painting and monitoring the Waterford River.

A short-term action plan, developed in the Fall of 2018, is expected to launch, in a temporary location, in the winter of 2019, with a final development plan being finalized this summer and implemented over 2020-2023.

Though council has its sites set on the old swimming pool building for the permanent site, no site has yet been chosen for the temporary location.

Aker said the temporary location will essentially act as a test run of the final project.

"By getting the temporary location up and running that feeds into all the discussions we're having about whether this is feasible. Because then we'd have a track record, we'll see who's participating in the incubator, and we'll have a better handle on what the costs are."

The city was recently awarded $20,400 in funding from Federation of Canadian Municipalities to support the completion of a feasibility study on the proposed innovation park.

In his address, Aker also noted the development of the Waterford River is an important component of the town's urban renewal plan.

"The City of Mount Pearl is working on a City Centre Revitalization Plan that is rooted in the reimagination of the Waterford River. This year, we'll be working on a plan to transform the river, while protecting and maintaining its natural beauty. And the ideas are endless. It could include the launch of a boardwalk that could become home to many shops and galleries, restaurants and storefronts. and they would benefit our local craft market entrepreneurs," said Aker.

"Linked to the extensive trail system, the Waterford River boardwalk could have entry points direct to Centennial Street via Park Avenue, as well as Donovans Industrial Park... However, it's very early in the process. But one thing is for sure; that process will need your input," concluded Aker, noting the City will be seeking community feedback on the project.

He also announced the City will be hosting a Hackathon in November.

"Hacking is creative problem solving," he explained, going on to say that the event will be a two to three-day event that will bring in innovators, entrepreneurs and professionals from across the province.

The City does have some challenges to face as it presses forward; notably, a declining and aging population.

According to data provided by the city, the population from 2006 to 2016 has dropped from 24,671 to 22,957, while the median age has risen from 38.6 in 2006 to 44.5 in 2018. Meanwhile, permits for residential construction dropped from 55 in 2015 to 36 in 2017, and although there has been an increase of registered businesses (867 in 2015 to 1068 in 2017), only 79 business permits were issued in 2017 (down from 133 permits in 2012), and vacant office and retail space has increased from 2.58 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in 2017.

Posted on March 8, 2019 .