Ekaterina - urbanist, participant of the project "Friends of Karpovka", "Zarosli"
"I do not position myself as an eco-activist, but I consider myself a person who promotes collective action in urban space."
Photo: Friends of Karpovka
CC: When did you become interested in ecological practices and green lifestyle?
ЕК: It started when I was studying in America in 2012 - 2013. I studied in a small town near a conservation area in Tennessee, our university was on a mountain and most of the university was a forestry department. It was surprising, I saw that a large number of people were interested in doing such practices. When I graduated from university, I went to America and stayed in an art residence on a farm. A sustainable lifestyle was practiced there, the residents grew their own food, so eco-activists appeared in my proximity. And they also had a phobia of GMOs, and although I didn’t really understand it, people with similar ideas entered my circle.
An important milestone was the project with my friend Hannah Miller - we walked the entire state of Mississippi. When you walk, you oppose the car and other less environmentally friendly modes of transport. It was a provocative project, and later I thought about what was so provocative about just walking. Thinking about why walking is radical in America is a product of this journey. After that, I started buying books about motorization, about the use of streets and roads. I came to urban studies through an understanding of mobility, the history of US motorization and its consequences.
When I returned to Russia, I began to participate in the project on Karpovka with Olya Mnishko. Through Olin's example of urban activism, I understood what can be done in the city and the power of urban communities. The Karpovka project was complex due to the mix of research and activist work. This experience taught me to always keep personal motivation in mind. My motivation was the idea that embankments should not be highways.
CC: How did your life start to change after these projects?
ЕК: Moving is such a special state that releases great energy when a person is ready to be creative and constructive about a new lifestyle, ready to participate in the formation of a community. I have always had an idea of "local patriotism." Wherever I lived, I began to promote the idea of what an extraordinary place it is. So I lived in Kolomna (CC - the central historical district of St. Petersburg) and buzzed all my friends ears how cool it was. It is important for me to emphasize locality, neighborhood, actively look for neighbors, call them neighbors, talk to them and do something together. If I moved to Murino (CC - a new residential development on the outskirts of St. Petersburg with less appealing environment), I would continue to do the same. After moving, I started cycling. Previously, there was no place to store a bicycle, but in this new place, the opportunity appeared. I realized that cycling was in line with my new principles, so I bought a bike, and I also started doing separate collection.
СС: Tell us more about your recycling experience?
ЕК: You need to be a big activist of the separate collection to be engaged with it here. It's not as easy as taking out the trash. I live at an equidistant distance from the points where you can take individual waste fractions, you have to go there by bus or minibus, because you can’t ride a bicycle with bags. It takes 30-40 minutes one way. Sometimes I go to the Petrogradskaya Storona, because separate collection campaigns are more often held there. I had a bad experience: once I started collecting compost in one place on Vasilyevsky Island, but eventually closed.
СС: What difficulties arise regarding eco-friendly lifestyle in our city?
ЕК: I would ride a bike more if the city had more cycling infrastructure. Usually I drive only within a certain radius, for example, along Vasilyevsky Island or from here to the center, to the Petrograd side, to Kolomna. Going further is already a feat. If we talk about separate collection, it would be much more convenient if it moved from activism to routine. It would attract more people. There are only 3 owners in my entrance, including me, and two of us collect garbage separately. Sometimes we order an eco-taxi, but I'm not ready to pay for it every time. I only call them in emergencies, such as during a pandemic. I get tired of people not accepting or valuing environmental initiatives, for example, I won't argue with committed motorists, because it takes a lot of energy.
СС: What eco-practices would you like to engage in under more favorable conditions?
EK: It is interesting for me to work on the creation of various kinds of ecological spaces, such as, for example, a vegetable garden on Karpovka. In general, I want to develop urban communities. I started one such small joint - this is a neighborhood pétanque (French pronunciation: petɑ̃k). People do not need to buy or rent petanque balls, they can share a set together. I always have such an activist interest, to see how it can work on a micro level. I bought petanque balls and donated them to the neighborhood community, people began to gather and play without having to buy their own balls. This is also an eco-practice.
CC: Tell us more about your projects and initiatives that can be attributed to sustainable development.
ЕК: I am a member of the City Open Laboratory and we are engaged in projects of urban public spaces. I think that the development of the city turns out to be more environmentally friendly if both experts and citizens participate in projects. Creating high-quality and sought-after public spaces next to housing is also about environmental friendliness, about reducing pendulum migration and concentrating people in one place. We are interested in doing projects without a lot of money, with our own efforts, that is, such DIY urbanism (Do It Yourself).
An example of such a project is the Garden on Karpovka, which arose on the basis of the Friends of Karpovka community. Garden on Karpovka is an initiative of residents who want to do gardening in the city center.
Location of the project “Zarosli”. Photo: http://zarosli.space/
Another project I'm involved in is "Thickets". This is the area where the Smolenka and Malaya Neva rivers merge. In fact, this is a cape behind the Kalinin plant, where there was no access for a long time. When the Betancourt bridge was built, a passage opened there. Barbecue-loving locals who have dogs quickly took over the place, and urbanists took notice too. However, the city administration plans to build a highway on this site. In this regard, a movement began there, and I agreed to advise the project. I do not have ambitions to take care of every embankment, but I think that someone should take care of every embankment. I helped carry chairs, paint, and organize events. There are two vectors within the Zarosli initiative group - for preserving the wildness and environmental friendliness of the place and for its more active improvement. I will be glad if the parties can agree.
CC: Why do you think there are more such city initiatives?
ЕК: Urbanism is now on the buzz, because there are popularizers who attract people to urban projects. Participants in urban projects are beginning to speak in terms of public spaces, multifunctionality, urbanism. Various initiatives and communities are emerging; people are trying to do something useful and appropriate urban spaces. Sometimes city dwellers study the issue of territorial development more deeply than planners. Thus, the request for nature in the city now comes from the townspeople and people are ready to accept inconvenience in order to preserve the naturalness of the territories. For example, to leave only a couple of improved passages to the water on the embankments, and not to make a convenient promenade to the detriment of coastal nature. The willingness to accept nature and protect its “wildness” is a very important trend today and it is articulated by the residents of our city.