There’s a great feature in today’s Globe And Mail on Winnipeg’s attempts to revitalize its downtown. Snip:

Around the world there is a growing understanding that suburban sprawl is unsustainable, and that, for cities to survive, they must shrink back in on themselves, tightening up, promoting density and pushing their growing population into space already served by existing infrastructure and social services. For Winnipeg, the need for change is especially pressing. The city’s population in 2006 was 633,451, but of those, only 13,470 lived downtown. A rush to the suburbs in the 1970s gutted the inner city and crippled downtown retail. Heritage buildings that would be hot commodities elsewhere have sat unoccupied for years, and parking lots seem to occasionally outnumber the cars that use them. Now, the city is desperately trying to realign itself, drawing life back to its centre as a way to sustain its economic core.

It’s no accident that prairie dog is sprawl-obsessed. Its editor (me) is an ex-Winnipegger and I spent the first half of my life going bananas watching that town wreck itself (when I wasn’t going bananas over the bumbling, stumbling Jets, that is). It seemed like every time there was an application to bulldoze some far-flung farmer’s field and plant suburbs, it was approved by pro-developer clods on city council. And yet every day the paper had stories about downtown decay and crime with simpering, blubbering quotes from these same councillors.

Few seemed to see the connection — it was like almost everyone in the city was blind. And it was unbelievably frustrating to watch.

The turn-around began just before I moved here in 1998. A few months after my move, the city elected a mayor, Glenn Murray, who seemed to “get it”. Now, it’s shifted to a point where Winnipeg’s current mayor, who otherwise seems kind of like a lame-O, even acknowledges past development stupidities:

“We want to have a situation where you don’t have a massive population downtown between nine and five and then all of a sudden it’s six o’clock and it’s empty,” says Mayor Sam Katz. “But what people don’t realize is that you can’t correct the mistakes of the past in just a year or two.”

In Winnipeg, even the dorks are starting to get it. Regina can save a lot of time and money by learning from that city’s mistakes. Or we can be clueless, sprawl-mad idiots and watch other cities blow by us.

Do we want it to get to the point where our greatest bands write songs like this?

Learn from others’ failures, be smarter, be better or fail.