News / Canada

A toast to the city-building power of craft beer

Old buildings, from churches to slaughterhouses, are being put to use as breweries — and shining a light on how cities can get creative.

The Canadian Press

Urban renewal is brewing in Pittsburgh, Pa.

On the advice of some urbanist friends, I visited the rust belt city over the Easter long weekend. I basked in the art and architecture on offer, and checked out Pittsburgh’s burgeoning craft beer scene.

Throwing back a pint is hardly an unusual vacation activity, but in Steel City, it’s where you imbibe that’s interesting.

I washed pierogies down with a lager made on-site in a former church. I drank a dry cider in the backyard of the house it was fermented in. And I heard rumours of an excellent saison brewed at what was once a slaughterhouse.

Chatting with locals, I learned these microbreweries are important anchors in their communities. They draw residents and tourists to parts of the city where nightlife was previously absent and make it possible for people to walk to their watering holes. They create jobs and offer spillover economic benefits to other businesses, like the food trucks you find parked outside.

These benefits may be more pronounced in Pittsburgh, a city still finding its footing after the industrial collapse of the late 20th century, but they’re not unique to the city. In Toronto, a bevy of new breweries turned formerly industrial areas in the city’s west side into vibrant destinations.

While craft breweries can be a shortcut to urban renewal, they don’t happen without good zoning laws. During a trip to Winnipeg in 2016, for example, I learned zoning rules prevent breweries from operating outside of strictly industrial areas – not exactly the best places for a patio.

Fortunately, the city is now rethinking its regulations with an eye towards inviting would-be brewers downtown.

Adding craft beer to the menu in urban, residential areas is an example of what urbanist thinker Jane Jacobs meant when she said “new ideas need old buildings.” And let’s be honest, there’s few better places than the bar for sharing new ideas.

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