Feeding Cities: Learning Sustainable Design from Bees and Termites

Cities need you. Support Next City and have your gift matched.Donate

Feeding Cities: Learning Sustainable Design from Bees and Termites

Opening the Feeding Cities conference this morning, University of Pennsylvania professor emeritus Robert Giegengack noted that insects can teach us a thing or two about sustainable cities.

As the 2013 Feeding Cities conference unfolds this week in Philadelphia, Next City, a media partner for the event, will feature regular updates from bloggers covering its talks and workshops.

“In my 25 years as an amateur bee keeper,” said Robert Giegengack, professor emeritus of earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania, as he opened the Feeding Cities conference this morning, “I’ve learned that other animals have addressed the issues of sustainable urban agriculture.”

It may sound strange, but there is a lot we can learn from how insects go about their business. As you probably already know, bees produce honey using the nectar from plants, storing it in their bee hive to eat then convert into energy. During the summer months, when nectar is plentiful, the bees go about their work, stockpiling honey for those months when they are less equipped to produce it.

However, food alone is not enough for bees to survive the cold winter months. Bees are furry and naturally well-insulated due to air settling in their coats, but when temperatures really plummet they huddle closely together, benefiting from the extra insulation offered by being in a large group.

Essentially, bees have built themselves a self-sufficient city, relying on density for survival. We may not need to huddle quite as closely as the bees do, but dense urban living brings us the same benefits as it does Giegengack’s bee hives.

The great ideas don’t stop there. Termite mounds inspired the design for the Eastgate Centre, a building in Harare, Zimbabwe. The termite community in Zimbabwe (and elsewhere) knows a thing or two about making the most of natural resources, building their mounds with flues in the top and sides for air flow, and building the mounds themselves to catch the breeze. The Eastgate Centre followed a similar approach, resulting in a series of chimneys and fans that allow air to passively cool the building and keep cooling costs at just 10 percent of that of a conventionally cooled building.

Insects probably don’t have the answers to all the challenges we face as we transition to sustainable urban living, but they’ve certainly got a few.

Tags: urban designsustainable citiesanchor institutions

×
Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×
×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 830 other sustainers such as:

  • Miguel at $5/Month
  • Anonymous in St. Louis, MO at $5/Month
  • Zac at $5/Month

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    The 21 Best Solutions of 2021 special edition magazine

  • Donate $40 or $10/Month

    Brave New Home by Diana Lind