Berlin is just one of many cities worldwide where beekeeping is enjoying a surge in popularity. Globally, a renaissance of beekeeping is underway as urban dwellers seek to reconnect with nature — and earn some money. In Hong Kong last year, expert product designer Michael Leung brought together local beekeepers and artists to form “HK Honey,” a company that markets honey from the city’s rooftops, rare green spots, and suburbs. In Britain, according to a recent report in The Guardian newspaper, membership of the British Beekeeping Association has doubled to 20,000 in just three years “as young, urban dwellers transform a rather staid pastime into a vibrant environmental movement.”
This renaissance taps into a culture of urban beekeeping with particularly deep historical roots in European cities. Paris at the turn of the twentieth century boasted more than 1,000 hives, and after a long decline following World War II, that number has resurged to almost 400. Some hives even claim expensive real estate, like that atop the historic Paris Opéra. For all of Germany, the beekeepers’ association reports the first increase in memberships in years, to over 40,000, following a long decline in both beekeepers and number of colonies.
In the U.S., where the number of colonies decreased from 6 million after World War II to 2.4 million today, thousands of young people are re-discovering this ancient skill. Beekeeping is still banned in many cities by “No Buzz Zones” for fear of people getting stung. But places like Detroit and Chicago are showcases of a movement to make it an integral part of the urban economy and ecology. Chicago’s city hall is home to more than 100,000 bees. With its rich patchwork of urban farms and open lots, Detroit is investigating beekeeping as a new tool for community development and economic growth. New York, where beekeeping fines once topped $2,000, lifted the ban last year, legalizing what many people had been doing for a long time.