The honey bee has more diversity than the Town Mouse does in the U.S. but does not like being in the city of the Country Mouse
When the Town Mouse visited the Country Mouse, the old fable goes, she politely ate her host’s simple food. But when the pair ventured to the city for the delights of urban life, the Country Mouse quickly fled back home to escape cats and other dangers. TheRodent realized that the country is simple, but at least it is safe.
Try telling that to the bees. With the spread of agriculture, mono crops such as wheat and corn have replaced the diverse flowers that bees rely on for food. The pesticides that are killing bees have been brought by agriculture. But oddly enough, urban gardens—where different crops can grow next to each other, since they’re tended by hand rather than by giant, lumbering machines—are increasingly providing bees with sustenance. Bee diversity in cities can actually be larger than in rural areas according to a growing body of research.
Highly social honey bees, which gather in hives and defend their homes by stinging you, are what you usually think of when you think of bees. But in fact, the vast majority of bee species are solitary insects—ground nesters, for instance, that burrow into the dirt. The honey bee is very popular in the U.S. but it does not like being in this country.
These scientists like bees from St. Louis. “We are the most bee-diverse city of any city anywhere in the world so far that’s been surveyed,” says Ed Spevak, director of the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Native Pollinator Conservation. It’s all about having the best bees for the best crop production and supporting the best bees for the best habitat.
Life is abundant outside the front door. The air teems with pollen and spores. The cow’s weight is transferred to the soil by the colonies ofbacteria. Hundreds of millions of insects were found in studies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Bobcat in Dallas, bears in Aspen, and coyotes in Alaska are all kept out of sight by the homeowners that host them. This biodiversity thrives with little effort from caretakers, as long as they don’t actively work against it—as they have been doing since the invention of the lawn.
By “lawn” here, I mean a monoculture of grass cut less than two inches high, kept green with staggering resources and force of will. The choice of landscaping was spread by a mass advertising campaign in the US that convinced people that having the money and ability to maintain a uniformly green yard was important.
In recent years, the lawn has been losing its grip on the American psyche, especially in areas where rivers are drying up and water bills are rising. For many years, the city of Las Vegas has been paying people to rip up their lawns and replace them with more regionally appropriate plants, and last year the state of Nevada started banning lawns outright. Water agencies around the Colorado River have taken pledges to stop pouring their gallons into decorative grass. The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, which registers bird- and insect-friendly spaces, surpassed its million-registration goal in 2019.
It might seem like an obvious win for homeowners, wildlife and city governments to replace a life-sucking, arbitrary landscaping option with a more sustainable and bustling garden. An unelected pseudo-government of neighbors, also known as homeowners associations, is another organization that budding environmentalists might forget to consult.
Homeowners associations began in the early 20th century and gained power from the 1960s onward as local governments lost tax revenue and loosened zoning restrictions. Developers stepped in to provide services that would normally be the responsibility of the city, such as streets, security, landscaping, and public pools, according to Paula A. Franzese, a law professor at Seton Hall Law. Once the people who build the homes sell them off, they pass responsibility to either volunteers, hired contractors, or management companies, which are more prominent in large, wealthy neighborhoods that have a lot of services to maintain.
Our legal system can sometimes enforce some rules that this almost government can create, but they aren’t beholden to the constitution. That is protected by the constitution as free speech, so no city or state can do anything to prevent you from posting a political sign. But a homeowners association can, says Gerald Korngold, professor of law and director for real estate studies at New York Law School. He says it’s a private government. The courts can determine that certain homeowners association covenants are unenforceable, though it’s a private government that operates based on the rules that they have agreed to.
Rurbanization: Bringing more of the country into the urban landscape and reducing temperatures during the heat wave? An ecological expert writes about “The environmental fate of the state”
In the past people have fought against each other with vastly different cultures and surroundings. But a burgeoning movement—with accompanying field of science—is eroding this divide, bringing more of the country into the city. It’s called rurbanization, and it promises to provide more locally grown food, beautify the built environment, and even reduce temperatures during heat waves.
It’s also reversing the longstanding assumption that growing food is straight-up bad for biodiversity because clearing land for agriculture necessitates removing native plants and animals. Ecologist Shalene Jha of the University of Texas, Austin says this idea was based on observations of rural agriculture, where growing industrialized swaths of corn or wheat can be catastrophic for existing ecosystems. Smaller green spaces, as well as the city farms and gardens don’t hold that kind of rule.