Now my first thought when I wrote that title was "safe from whom?" Safe from people who don't know any better and will kill on sight? Safe from varmints that might try to ransack the hive at night when the trash cans are empty?
I often get asked the question by aspiring beekeepers "is it safe to keep bees in a neighborhood?" Long story short, absolutely! Let me explain my story.
Before I ever got into beekeeping, my wife posed the same concerns. My response was simply that everything I read said it was OK. But until you live it, you never really know. Well, 3 years in, I can testify that it's very safe. Walking into my back yard, if you didn't actually see the beehives, you'd never know they were there. My back yard is not just a constant cloud of bees as some folks envision. And there aren't bees always hanging out pestering us on the back patio.
In fact, I have a few beehives placed within 10' of my kids playground (temporary of course) and the kids still run and play all around there with no issues. Would I do this with a known aggressive hive? Absolutely not, that would be foolish. My bees have demonstrated exceptional gentleness and tolerance, to the point that I always work them without a suit, and without incident. I maintain my lawn, mowing and trimming right up to and around the beehives without incident.
In my current situation, I have a lot only 100' wide. I have neighbors on both sides, to the north, they have three children ranging from 5-14 years old, and to the south an older couple. Oh, lets not forget my three children ranging from 4 months to just over 3 years old (17 mos apart!) We've never had a bee sting incident with the neighbors. Sure there has been the occasional swarm that gets people hyped up, but it quickly moves on, no one is harmed, and we all forget in a couple hours that it ever happened.
So how is that it is in fact so safe? It's a function of the bee line, and the bees' mindset that is focused on work and not on you. Recall the line "he made a bee line for the door". Turns out, bees actually do this. They take the shortest path from A to B. In neighborhoods, we have fences in general 6' high. That means that a bee flying through the neighborhood tends to stay above 6' off the ground. As a matter of fact, I watch my bees leave the yard and actually go up and over the tree line! So as long as we aren't all hanging out in the tree tops, we should be OK.
Furthermore, the foraging bee is never focused on being aggressive. Try taking a picture of a forager on a blossom sometime. Often they will move away and not let you get a good shot. It can frustrating to be a bee photographer. Honeybees are only defensive when they feel threatened. And for the average backyard hive, that is never.
So we go back to the question "are honeybees safe in neighborhoods?" Just make sure the kids aren't using the beehives as goal posts in a backyard soccer game, and I think we'll be just fine.