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The billowing stainless steel forms of Frank Gehry’s Pritzker bandshell seem to float up from behind the 3.5-acre Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, backed by Chicago’s celebrated skyline. Another landmark in a city long a laboratory for innovation in architecture and landscaping, the garden has been called a “model of responsible horticulture.” Masses of flowering perennials and grasses are a striking counterpoint to the surrounding walls of concrete and glass. Perhaps most unexpected, at a place that sits atop a 4,000-vehicle underground parking garage and railroad depot in the inner city, are the bees that flit from flower to flower.
In the 21st century, urban green spaces must be many things: verdant getaways; playgrounds; gathering spots. As cities continue to sprawl across the planet, leaving mere patches and fragments of wilderness in their wake, gardens increasingly also must serve as living space for native plants and animals. Not every species is amenable to city life, but from Berlin to Melbourne to Berkeley, researchers are finding that flower patches — in parks, residential properties, community vegetable plots and vacant lots — support surprisingly healthy populations of bees, the most important pollinators in agricultural and most natural areas. In a few cases, urban bee populations are more diverse and abundant than those outside the city.