More Bees, Please! What’s All the Buzz about Bees in Urban Areas?

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More Bees, Please! What’s All the Buzz about Bees in Urban Areas?

April 22, 2024

By: Deirdre Smith, Associate Director of Landscape & Sustainability of Ox Hill Companies- LEED

Bees need better PR.  Really.  Everyone always focuses on the stinging part but bees, in fact, are amazing little creatures.


Incredibly, 71 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food are pollinated by bees, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  It is estimated that bee pollination adds $100 billion to the global economy annually.  Literally, bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat.


However, despite their vital necessity, pollinating insect populations – including bees – are declining worldwide.  Urban and suburban sprawl, pollution, pesticide use and climate change are among the threats facing all pollinating insects.  Currently, one in ten bee and butterfly species is now in danger of extinction.


Honey bees, as an indicator species, are considered an excellent source of data on both pollinator and environmental health, according to Best Bees, a US-based organization whose mission is to promote and protect pollinator health and biodiversity.


Fortunately, there is growing awareness of the bee decline issue and scientists as well as governments are starting to take action.  The European Union recently laid out measures to attempt to reverse the decline of insects vital for crop production by 2030, under the Nature Restoration Law.


Closer to home, jurisdictions are also taking matters into their own hands to protect pollinators.  For example, the Colorado legislature recently passed a bill banning the sale of bee-damaging pesticides at garden centers and hardware stores.  Sponsors and environmental advocates hope Senate Bill 266 will help slow the decline of Colorado’s bee varieties.


These threats notwithstanding, bees have been found to not only survive but flourish in urban areas.  Urban bees, unlike their rural counterparts, are generally healthier, produce more honey and have a better winter survival rate (62.5% versus only 40%).


As already mentioned, the reasons for urban bee abundance boils down to greater biodiversity (as opposed to agricultural monoculture) which gives bees stronger immune systems combined with less exposure to deadly pesticides.  The evidence also seems to support the benefit of the abundance of green roofs found on city rooftops.  Since bees can fly up to 9,000 meters – the equivalent of the peak of Mt. Everest – and forage daily over a three mile radius, the fact that bees are thriving in cities begins to make sense.


Urban beekeeping is one measure to support sustainable building initiatives.  Commercial buildings that add bee hives can gain valuable LEED credits as well as other types of sustainability certifications.  By hosting bee hives and supporting bee populations, a company can demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, enhance brand image and engage stakeholders.


In 2010, New York City lifted its beekeeping ban; other cities soon followed suit.  There are now honeybee hives atop the iconic Chrysler building and 60,000 bees are buzzing away on the roof of Madison Square Garden.


Another example is the Old Post Office building in Chicago.  Constructed in 1921 and vacant for almost 50 years, the building was redeveloped in 2019 to include a 3.5 acre rooftop garden.  Even though it’s 10-stories high in downtown Chicago, the garden boasts three thriving bee colonies, producing a hundred pounds of honey annually.


Locally, as of 2018, there were 400 hives across Washington, D.C. and probably many more now.  At the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown, the honey produced by their rooftop hives is used to flavor certain items on the menu of the in-house restaurant as well as their signature bee-tini featured at the lobby bar.


As a visible sign of its commitment to sustainability, Fairfax VA developer, Ox Hill Companies, is planning a beehive atop its City Centre West project which will also host the first green roof in Fairfax City.  The mixed-use development is scheduled for completion in 2026.

City Centre West

(Ox Hill Companies’ upcoming project, City Centre West, is poised to embrace the urban beekeeping concept)


Finally, the surprising fact that urban bee populations are more diverse and abundant than those outside the city supports the grey-to-green movement, focusing on creating spaces to provide habitats and spur biodiversity.   Leave it to the busy bee to show the world that there can be a more sustainable future – as sweet as, well, honey.