Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Elizaveta Fakirova

03.03.2021, Regina Schröter

After graduating in Architectural Environment Design, Elizaveta Fakirova realized her talents were actually on the side of project management. After gaining experience at Strelka KB in Moscow, Russia’s biggest urban consultancy firm, she moved to Berlin to pursue a Master’s in Urban Management. Elizaveta is currently a fellow at Alexander von Humboldt Foundation researching green roofs and facades as a tool to mitigate local climate changes. # FROM ARCHITECTURE TO PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN URBANISM I started studying when I was 16, which is normal in Russia, but I did not have any idea about what I wanted to do. I happened to be good at drawing, so I chose a university program in Architectural Environmental Design in St. Petersburg. It was challenging because there were a lot of talented people, but for me, designing was quite a challenge and the results were not sufficient to me. This is why I have been moving away from working on the design of urban projects and instead worked in project management. # DEFINING WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT After graduation, I moved to Moscow and worked for one year in the field of architecture, making schematic designs for the automotive industry. It was very hard to be in a new city without knowing many people. Then I found out about a three-months long course in [Art Management and Gallery Business]( at the RMA Business School, in which I enrolled. There, I finally found people that I connected with and participated in the organization of cultural events. After finishing this course, I had to decide whether to stay in the field of architecture, in which I had spent the last seven years, or go into project management. At one point in your career, you need to define what you are really good at and even this was not an easy decision for me to make, I am happy that I did it! I ended up becoming Project Lead of the Art Management and Gallery Business program, a role I worked in for almost three years. # GETTING A JOB AT STRELKA I had known about Strelka Institute since my studies and during my Art Management course, I had the opportunity to get to know the company better because the culture and urbanism scene in Moscow are closely connected. When Strelka KB was recruiting new people, I was on the lookout for a new job and got invited to join their team. Most people know the [Strelka Institute]( because of their international post-graduate program. Strelka KB is their consultancy branch, which pioneered strategic consulting for urban spaces in Russia. There, I took on the role of business development manager and coordinator of architectural competitions. This was how I returned to the field of architecture and urbanism but from the project management side of things. {{Pic1: Urban green facade in Berlin. Photo by Elizaveta Fakirova}} # LEARNING FROM AN INTERDISCIPLINARY TEAM At Strelka KB, there are many people from different backgrounds, such as geographers, anthropologists, sociologists and economists, working closely together to find solutions for the city. The projects greatly benefit from those diverse experiences. Working in such a stimulating environment, I was learning every day. I was often talking to different private and public stakeholders to understand their needs and perspective on the issues at hand, which helped me gain a deeper understanding of how the city functions. # LAST MINUTE MASTER’S APPLICATION I wanted to study a Master’s in cultural management in Europe and luckily I had a cousin living in Potsdam, close to Berlin, who offered me to share a flat with them. When I finally made the decision to move there, the deadlines for Berlin-based programs in the cultural field were already over. Then I found the [Master’s in Urban Management](, who had prolonged the deadline for applications, and I decided to go for it. Meeting fellow students from all continents really got me out of my bubble. I was the first Russian who joined this Master’s in 13 years of existence of the program and everyone was very welcoming with me. Russia and Europe have very different perspectives on urban development, and issues like climate change were not a mainstream topic in Russia when I started this program in 2016. It was quite challenging for me to understand how I could apply this knowledge to the Russian context. A part of me was constantly thinking about how this specific degree could get me a job back in my home country. # TIMING FELLOWSHIP APPLICATIONS RIGHT During the Master’s, I had heard about the [German Chancellor Fellowship]( at Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It is a one-year program offered to professionals with experience from different fields such as culture, economics and politics. Applicants from Brazil, China, India, Russia, the United States, and South Africa (starting 2021) are eligible. Under this program, your research needs to connect Germany with your home country, but you have great freedom to choose what you want to do: an applied project, a podcast or an exhibition, it is really up to you. I wanted to apply for this program, but at that time I was not eligible, since you need to be living in your home country for at least a year at the time of application, and I was already in Berlin. I eventually returned to Russia and worked in various management positions. I was also project coordinator for [Citymakers International](, where I coordinated the very first conference of “Park Lab”, a program of conferences for professionals sharing experiences in the management and development of parks and protected areas. {{Pic2: The Park Lab Conference in Moscow. Photo by Elizabeta Fakirova}} # LEARNING GERMAN FOR THE VISA After one and a half years of living and working in Russia, I reapplied for the fellowship and received the research grant! In preparation for it, I had already managed to get a language visa to return to Berlin for a nine-month German course. Of course, there are many reasons why learning the local language makes sense, but it is especially relevant if you want to work in urban development since you have to be able to talk with people in the Municipality. It worked out perfectly for me and I was able to start the fellowship right after the course was over. # RESEARCHING GREEN POLICIES Under the umbrella of the Fellowship, I am currently researching policies towards the implementation of unconventional types of gardening in urban areas, such as green roofs and facades. Moscow is facing the challenge of climate change such as Urban Heat Island Effect, whereby inner urban areas are starkly hotter than the surrounding rural areas and flooding, as the grey infrastructure cannot cope with the rainwater. Green infrastructure can mitigate these challenges, but the key to its successful implementation is an effective policy model. Such green projects are not widespread in Russia because of the absence of legal policies, a lack of knowledge and limited resources. Germany is a leading country in developing green roofing and green facades technology and I want to find out how to apply this knowledge to the Russian context. It would make a great difference for Russian stakeholders if they could access this knowledge in their language and adjust it to their specific circumstances. {{Pic3: Urban green roof in Berlin. Photo by Elizaveta Fakirova}} # COMMUNICATING RESEARCH RIGHT Before I started the fellowship, I was in quarantine and was looking for something useful and meaningful to do. So I created a simple [landing webpage for my project]( where I focused on putting information into as few words as possible. When I shared the website and my research plans on Linkedin, I was surprised how many reached out and offered their expertise. I learned that people are way more likely to react when you have something visual to show to them. Even when researchers are saying very interesting things, the presentation and accessibility of the information are often very complicated. In my opinion, visualisation could be used as a tool for researchers to focus on the main idea and present it in an easy to understand way. # COLLECTING KNOWLEDGE IN GERMANY Germany gives a lot of possibilities and financial support to those who want to connect countries in order to exchange knowledge. It is still a bit early for me to think about this, but one day I would like to organise some sort of conference specifically for international collaboration and dialogue. Europe is many steps ahead when it comes to urban development, there is so much knowledge that I would love to collect, translate and bring to Russia.