03/04/2014 05:28 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT

I Want To Live In a 21st Century City!

This week John Tory and Karen Stintz entered the Toronto mayoral race, while others, most notably Olivia Chow, are still standing in the wings. It goes without saying that our next mayor should have integrity, be law-abiding, and set a good example to our children. We also need an effective consensus builder and administrator. We need a mayor whom police will want to work with rather than tail.

But these are table stakes. Our city is on the cusp of profound changes and we need a mayor with the vision and capacity to lead.

Toronto became a city in the industrial age, a period that saw the rise of mass industrial production, mass media, mass education, and mass marketing. Powerful forces pushed out products such as cars, newspapers, television shows, university lectures, services, and advertisements to passive recipients.

We created wealth through large corporations and built our city around the automobile. Our urban form separated where we work (downtown), live (the suburbs) and shop (the malls). Cars consumed energy and exhaled toxins. Our low density hampered the growth of vibrant communities.

We fretted as to whether our number of theatre productions, art galleries, good restaurants, and professional sports teams made us world-class. These indices still matter. But there are bigger opportunities on the table.

We are undergoing huge transformation precipitated by the Internet and the digital revolution. It gives us access to the knowledge and intelligence in the crania of people across the city and around the world. Our economy is increasingly based on brain, not brawn. Moving into the networked age provides new opportunities to transform the very warp and woof of the city -- to reinvent our local infrastructure and institutions as more collaborative, participatory, powerful and effective -- to create a prosperous, sustainable, vibrant and open city.

To be sure, some of these changes fall beyond the authority of the mayor and local government. We need to change the dumb power grid that pushes electricity out to devices to a power grid that looks more like the Internet, with devices contributing to and drawing from the system. We need to move from the industrial model of teachers lecturing students and move to a more student-focused model in which educators exploit digital technologies and engage with small work groups. We need to transform our clinician-focused health care to one where citizens take a more active role in promoting good health. While these are not municipal dossiers, the municipal government must be part of the solution. Ours is an increasingly complex world, resistant to simple and clearly delineated questions and answers.

But so far the discussion has focused on fiscal responsibility (on the right) and divvying up the pie differently (on the left). The debate needs to shift to how we govern, move around, create prosperity, take care of our citizens, and sustain our world.

Mayoralty candidates must acknowledge that the city is in a crisis that goes far beyond the incumbent's buffoonery. There are much bigger issues. They include:

1. Prosperity

In the industrial age, traditional corporations created wealth. Tariffs nurtured car companies, strong banks provided financial services and big shopping malls made us spend money. But today our youth jobless level is above 15% and pundits predict decades of structural unemployment. We can't look to US branch plants or big companies to generate jobs.

Entrepreneurs are the key to prosperity and employment. Companies less than 5-years-old create 80 percent of new jobs. Digital technologies mean small companies can challenge large firms. Which mayoral candidate will lead us in making Toronto the start-up capital of the world? Rather than championing the waterfront as an ideal casino venue, we need a mayor that takes a page from Boston - developing a startup and innovation area in the redeveloped waterfront. We need to nurture our homegrown entrepreneurs and attract new entrepreneurs from afar.

2. Open Government and an Open Toronto

Talking only about how to control local government costs misses the point. The industrial age model of government bureaucracy is stalled. The solution is not simply to slash budgets. Toronto needs to embrace the next wave of innovation and fundamentally redesign how it operates, how and what the city provides, and how it interacts and engages with its citizens.

We need to open up by releasing data to the world. Imagine if the mayor led a process to get all institutions to provide raw data into a city-wide platform. This would go beyond opening the data troves of the municipal government to include data from hospitals, schools, the transportation system, the power grid, laboratories, and stores. In doing so we could engender self-organizing networks involving the private sector, NGO's, academics, foundations, individuals and other government agencies to create public value. This has nothing to do with outsourcing, but rather it's a change in the division of labour in society and about how we create services and public value overall.

3. Turning Public Safety Inside Out

The industrial model of public safety was that police kept passive citizens safe. Innovative cities now have more connected law enforcement agencies that involve citizens in creating a safer community. Networks help boost police visibility, simplify the ease and accuracy of citizen reporting, and keep visible statistics on police follow-up, conviction rates, and so on. Cities have objective measures of whether matters are getting better or worse, and help pinpoint areas needing extra attention.

In Toronto this transformation has already started, led by Deputy Chief Peter Sloly. He says that "social media, mobile technologies, and new analytics tools are enabling a deep changes in policing. We can use these tools to better engage and mobilize citizens to help citizens co-produce safety in their own neighborhoods. At the same time the police are better able to sense and respond to real-time to dangers. This is one of the biggest changes to policing in a generation and the opportunities are pretty much unlimited."

We need a mayor that understands and supports this critical transformation.

4. Rethinking Transportation

Enough about burying the Gardiner and subways versus LRTs. Most thoughtful people see LRTs as the better way. But our mayor needs to provide leadership for the next generation of transportation and so far the topic hasn't even come up. Soon there will be autonomous vehicles moving around the streets of Toronto, guided by electronics and not the person behind the wheel.

Google's autonomous vehicles have completed over 500,000 km of road tests in the United States. The only accident to date was when a Google car was hit from behind at a red light.

Further, according to a University of California study every car-sharing vehicle replaces 9-13 cars. So combine autonomous vehicles with new incentives for ride-sharing to exploit excess capacity in cars, along with low emission vehicles, and we could have a "virtual" public transportation system for the entire city -- with almost no cost to government.

5. Creating a Sustainable City

With the industrial-age products came industrial-grade grime and pollution. In her new book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert explains that man-made climate change will precipitate what biologists call the sixth mass extinction - the elimination of 20 to 50 percent of plant and animal species by the end of the century. "Right now," she writes, "we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed."

We can't continue as before, and as Canada's largest city, we need to be a leader in reducing carbon, and promoting cleaner air and water. Digital technologies can help us move to networked models of air and water management. New modes of distribution and monitoring (including independent citizen monitoring) can improve the air and water security and quality. Easy initiatives such as telecommuting can reduce pollution and carbon emissions. We need leadership to ensure smart buildings and wired communities, where for example every new condo project and office tower has a telepresence centre for global telecommuting.

6. Transforming Social Services

In the past governments delivered social services to needy people. Today we can engage those in need to kick start social development and justice. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is building a vast campus in the heart of Toronto at Queen and Dufferin. Rather than an old-style institution it's building an urban village to integrate with the local community. Instead of simply delivering services to people with problems it's attempting to collaborate with them, build communities, and reduce isolation which is the number one risk factor in health.

A number of young people have created "CAMH engage," which seeks to build a movement across the city and country to lower the stigma about mental health, involve thousands of youth in fund raising, and take the issue of addiction and mental illness into every workplace.

Do any of the candidates understand the reinvention of social services?

7. Reinventing Local Democracy

In the industrial age we had an industrial-style top-down democracy. We elected politicians who talked amongst themselves and passed laws. We had accountable institutions of governance, but with a weak public mandate and an inert citizenry.

Digital technologies now enable a new era of much greater citizen involvement in government. Digital networks enable all citizens to become active, know what is going on in the city and contribute their ideas. A culture of public deliberation and active citizenship will help achieve social cohesion, good government and shared norms. This is not direct democracy: it is about a new model of citizen engagement and politics appropriate for the 21st century. We need this to stop the abuse of trust by office holders which alienates citizens and produces bumper stickers that say "Don't vote. It only encourages them."

American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote that legitimacy is "the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for the society." To rebuild the public's trust in our mayor, city council and other political institutions, elected officials need to embrace the principles of honesty, consideration and accountability. We need candidates for mayor that go beyond simply discussing parochial issues and mudslinging.

The Toronto Star's Big Ideas challenge was a great start. But we need a mayor who understands the new paradigm in democracy and can drive innovations in citizen engagement.

Note to All Candidates

There is more to municipal life than cost control, and for that matter we can't fund the creation of an open, networked and global city through property taxes. As cities become more important we need a mayor who can lead in a national discussion on how to reinvent Canadian federalism and provide cities and mayors with the resources and power they need.

And please don't call me a taxpayer, dammit! I'm a citizen. And I want to live in a 21st century city! Which of you has a vision and plan to get us there?

A previous version of this post appeared in the Toronto Star.

Don Tapscott is an Adjunct Professor at the Rotman School of Management and the Chancellor of Trent University. He is speaking on "Rethinking Government and Democracy" March 5th, 6:30 p.m Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St., Toronto. Reserve a seat at: