The Urbane Ecologist



Thank you for visiting my blog! I’m Savina.

There is little that terrifies me more than being asked “Where are you from?” I have no idea, yet people seem to think it is a simple question. My family is Bulgarian, but I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Abuja, Nigeria. I came face-to-face with the people whose abject poverty was in many ways caused by the livelihoods of some of my friends’ parents (those involved in the oil industry and politicians, for example) which the parents of my other friends tried to alleviate (such as those employed by nonprofits, international organizations, banks, and donor institutions). In going to an international school, I was privileged to meet others as ambiguous of identity as me. I saw Abuja grow from little more than a policy-making village lacking something as basic as a hairdresser to a busy city with its own airport surrounded by informal settlements. My childhood naturally led to a personal interest in the way in which cities function and how urbanites affect and are affected by their environment, although I didn’t recognize this at the time. It also led to a deep personal cynicism of many policies and organizations that tried to “end poverty”.

I went on to attend Rice University in Houston. Because I loved biology, I did my Bachelor’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and did lab work in biochemistry and cell biology. I loved learning biology and being in a lab and science in general, but something was missing. When I took a conservation class–which studies how to preserve the environment and keep it in a pristine state–something wasn’t quite clicking. As much as I saw the value in preserving parts of our environment pristine for our own sake, there is very little “pristine” environment left, and I couldn’t see the point of aiming for something based on that premise in the sense that I didn’t think the solution to environmental problems was to get rid of all the people. I also realized that many environmental problems were caused by people, and that the way people caused them and their reasons for doing so were complex. But my textbooks and class didn’t cover that! In my conservation class, I came across the field of urban ecology, and that’s when I realized that there are people out there who combine many ideas from science and social science together.

So that’s how my blog started. I love to read, and I like to share my excitement for new ideas with others.

When I left Houston, I worked as a research intern for Earth Policy Institute in Washington, DC. I learned a lot–both at work and in conversation with anyone and everyone I met–about issues that connect people and the environment: energy, agriculture, population, poverty, and so on. Again, I was thrilled to be surrounded by people from all over the world. But again, there was something missing. I kept remembering things I’d seen from my childhood and the many solutions proposed at conferences I went to or by people I knew didn’t seem to apply to where I’d grown up or to many other places I knew about. There were also a lot of incongruities that I couldn’t reconcile with emotionally but also fascinated me intellectually. At a conference on food poverty, for example, I’d be learning about the tragic state of access to food in various parts of the world, accompanied by the now-expected pictures of subsistence farmers, but I’d be eating the quinoa sandwiches and drinking the bottled water provided to me by the conference organizers.

I ended up in London a year later working on my MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at University College London (UCL), trying to understand how people cause environmental problems, how they are impacted by them, and how this cycle goes round and round. I was thrilled to find myself in a community of people from all over, some of whom cringed at the question “Where are you from?” almost as much as I do! As part of my master’s, I worked with a team to investigate water security in the peri-urban community of Quebrada Verde, near Lima, Peru, using diverse research techniques including participatory mapping, workshops, interviews.

After my master’s I worked with Carbon Analytics, a startup providing an online platform for businesses to examine their environmental impacts, using spend as a proxy for emissions. For about half the time I worked with them, I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and had the time of my life!

I now work in the rail industry–a story for another time–but my interest in environment, ecology, people, and cities remain. So I’m continuing to update this blog as a way to share my interests with others, and to share other people’s interesting stories, projects, and thoughts. If you know nothing about particular issues, I’ve set up the Short and SweetMaps, and I Want to Know More sections as a starting point.

Join me in my adventure!

If you’re working on or know of an interesting project you’d like to see featured here, drop a line in the comments below, or add me and send me a message on LinkedIn.


**Apologies for any ads you may see on my page. I hate ads as much as the next person, but I’m working on the free WordPress platform, so we all have to suffer.


2 thoughts on “About

  1. Fascinating blog – I’m not an ecologist, but I’m beginning to wonder about a career change in that direction! Best of luck with your studies…

  2. Thank you! Don’t wonder–take the leap and join in! It is a big field with many opportunities and much to do. Best of luck to you, too.

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