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April 25, 2024
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Earth Week: Bee Hotels and Bee Bunkers to Make NYC DOT Public Plazas and Open Streets the Bee's Knees

The Pollinator Port Project will create habitats for at-risk native bee populations and include research on the movement and behavior of bees in the city

Graphic of flowers and bees, text reads Creating Habitats for At-Risk Bee Populations

NEW YORK – New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, The Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort), and Rutgers University today, during Earth Week, announced the Pollinator Port Project to create habitats for at-risk native bee populations in select NYC DOT public plazas and Open Streets. As part of the project, 'bee hotels' and 'bee bunkers' will be installed, and vegetation will be planted to provide nourishment for bees and other pollinators. According to the United Nations' Environment Programme, bees are essential for the planet and are a crucial part of the biodiversity needed to sustain life. Bees have fewer habitats in urban areas and often have long distances between green spaces in cities. The installations announced today will provide connections between other green spaces across the city and will attract tickle bees, a small, native bee species that rarely sting.

A bee habitat or hotel set up among plants and flowers in an N Y C D O T plaza.
An example of a bee hotel.

A bee bunker inside a concrete planter.
An example of a bee bunker.

"The buzz is building: year after year, New York is becoming a better, friendlier city for native plants and animals-- and in the process helping create a better, more sustainable future," said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. "Bees are our friends, a key to literally sustaining life on this planet. The least we can do is to make our city welcoming to them, an urban environment full of color and biodiversity."

"Our Open Streets and public plazas have always buzzed with activity, but this year they're going to be the bee's knees," said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. "Bees are essential for the health of our planet, and this initiative will create habitats for at-risk native bee populations and help facilitate important scientific research."

"We are thrilled to work with DOT to support bringing pollinators to NYC public plazas and open streets, and to share more with New Yorkers about the pollinators that help their green public spaces thrive," said Georgia Faulkner, senior director of partnerships, programming and public space at The Horticultural Society of New York.

"The Hort and the Department of Transportation are transitioning many of the plantings in public plazas and Open Streets to perennials plants, including a host of native plants and pollinator plants," said Jeremy Jungels, senior director of horticulture at The Horticultural Society of New York. "We initially focused on the larger plaza spaces, where an immediate impact could be made, and over the next year we're trialing a series of perennials in planters to test whether they can thrive in these spaces. These trials will inform our plantings as we further move towards perennials and native plants and try to find a balance between these and the annuals which provide bursts of seasonal color to neighborhood residents throughout NYC."

"Through this work, we are creating living spaces for native bee pollinators in the city, including both flowers and appropriate nesting sites," said Dr. Kimberly N. Russell, undergraduate program director/associate professor of teaching at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. "Most bee species cannot live in hives, so we need to give them other materials to build their homes. The initial stages of this project have been about using science to design habitats – Bee Bunkers and Bee Barrels (with attached Bee Hotels) with the highest likelihood of success. Our hope is that these Pollinator Ports connect green spaces, giving bees the resources they need to move around the city and pollinate our flowers."

"Turning public plazas and open streets into habitat for at-risk bees is brilliant and exactly the type of innovative environmental model we love to support," said Anthony C. Wood, executive director of the Ittleson Foundation. "Proving it works in New York City will mean it can happen in cities across the nation."

The Pollinator Port Project will include the following NYC DOT plazas and Open Streets. Last year, bee hotels and bunkers were tested in Parkside Plaza in Brooklyn and Fordham Plaza in the Bronx.

  • Fordham Plaza
  • Parkside Plaza
  • Cooper Sq Plaza
  • Quisqueya Plaza (Dyckman Plaza)
  • Water Street, Staten Island
  • Gates Ave
  • 34th Ave

Bee hotels look similar to birdhouses filled with natural materials such as reeds and bamboo that serve as 'rooms' for solitary bees to nest their larvae and occasionally rest. Female bees deposit their eggs throughout the summer and provision them with food so the developing baby bees can safely grow. The bee hotels will be posted in planted areas of public plazas and Open Streets to accommodate movement in the planted corridor of our streetscape to facilitate their commute between the five boroughs.

Bee bunkers provide protected soil into which female bees build their nests and lay their eggs. Over the winter, the developing larvae are kept safe and cozy until they are ready to emerge in the spring. Burrowing bees tend to stay local to their habitat and typically forage within three to four blocks of where they live. Burrowing bees are docile and rarely sting. The bunkers will be placed inside existing planters to minimize interactions with people.

In addition to providing habitats, researchers from Rutgers University will study the city bees, their use of provided habitats, and how they move across the city. In one study, the bees will be marked using safe, biodegradable, colored spots to gain information about their population size and movement between green spaces. The Hort hosts an annual "Bee Jubilee" where New Yorkers can volunteer to help spot bees that are marked by the scientists to identify where the bees travel.

The Hort currently provides maintenance, operations, and horticultural care at 30 plazas, 25 Open Streets, and other public spaces in underserved communities across the city. Those resources will be expanded to 100 public spaces in underserved neighborhoods to ensure all New Yorkers have better access to high quality and vibrant public spaces. The Hort provides technical assistance (Hort Support) to community partners, which includes permitting, programming, community outreach, promotion, fundraising, grant writing, and more.

The Rutgers Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources is part of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences located in New Brunswick, NJ. The Ittleson Foundation provided a $50,000 grant to Rutgers for the first three years of this study.