Members and visitors of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild gather around an open-hive demonstration, accepting the risk implied by the warning signs. Photo credit: Douglas Sponsler.

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The term “urban beekeeping” carries a host of meanings — political, ecological, personal — beyond the mere description of where bees and beekeepers happen to coincide. Yet these meanings are seldom articulated explicitly or brought into critical engagement with the relevant fields of urban ecology and political ecology. In this perspective piece, we invite a conversation between practitioners, policy-makers, and urban residents about how urban beekeeping can best be understood and practiced to bring about social and ecological good in cities.

We draw upon urban ecological theory to construct a conceptual model of urban beekeeping that distinguishes beekeeping in, of, and for the city. Beekeeping in the city occurs in urban areas, but it neither takes on a distinctly urban form, nor serves any explicit agenda beyond the relationship between bees and beekeeper. Beekeeping of the city occurs when the practice of beekeeping is transformed into a distinct urban trade, yet not necessarily attached to any explicit social or ecological agenda. Beekeeping for the city understands beekeeping as a form of environmental and social activism, of participation in the life of the city as such.

The three forms of urban beekeeping are not mutually exclusive, nor do they form a simple gradient of value. Instead, they interact in complex ways with a suite of positive and negative impacts, and the realized value of urban beekeeping depends on how these assets and liabilities are managed. Based on this analysis, we formulate actionable guidelines. These include fostering self-regulation within the beekeeping community, harnessing beekeeping as a “gateway” experience for a broader reconciliation between urban residents and nature, and recognizing the broader context of beekeeping with respect to matters of socioecological justice. In general, our analysis endorses the social and ecological consciousness of beekeeping for the city, coupled with the technical expertise of beekeeping of the city. Importantly, though, we do not dismiss the value of beekeeping in the city for individual beekeepers, and we emphasize that this value can and should be maintained when beekeeping takes on the additional qualities of being of and for the city.