If we are going to realize our potential as a city, we are going to have to be really smart about how we do things. We will need to evaluate alternate ways of providing services and maintaining infrastructure. We will have to decide if we want to be the model for a 21st-century city or a civic backwater.

A positive indication that we are on track to becoming a much more effective and interesting city is the hiring of Simon Farbrother as the new city manager.

Farbrother was hired away from Waterloo, Ont. Though Waterloo is much smaller than Edmonton, like Edmonton, it’s part of a regional municipal district with a number of communities that must work together. His success in Waterloo bodes well for Edmonton.

Though only time will tell, I think we may have just picked a winner. One of his major achievements during his time in Waterloo was to have the city named Intelligent Community of the year in 2007 by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF). This was no small feat.

Each year, the ICF selects communities from around the world for its list of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities. The criteria for selection include significant use of broadband communications, how well the community enables a knowledge workforce and its efforts in promoting digital democracy.

We are lucky to be getting Farbrother because those are important things in the 21st century, and their value to Edmonton’s future cannot be underestimated. However, some of the other criteria for selection are even more important. One of them is the ability to foster innovation.

We could do with a lot more transformative innovation in this city. Much of what we have done that has passed for innovation has simply amounted to doing the same old things in a more efficient or effective manner. We are a city in need of transformative change. We cannot tinker with an old model and expect it to meet the demands of an increasingly challenging and complex world.

It has been said that managers do the right thing and leaders know the right thing to do.

Goodness knows we have precious little leadership on city council right now.

Let’s hope that in spite of his title, Farbrother is much more leader than manager. If that’s the case, he will soon show that he is well worth his $300,000 salary.