Sai Balakrishnan

Sai Balakrishnan is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Her research looks at the agrarian-urban property entanglements in liberalizing India, and how the India case can help articulate new theories of urbanization that are capable of incorporating within them the agrarian political economy. Balakrishnan’s book, titled Shareholder Cities: Land Transformations along Urban Corridors in India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019) explores these themes by focusing on the urbanization along new economic corridors in liberalizing India.

Balakrishnan has worked as an urban planner in the United States, India, and the United Arab Emirates, and as a consultant to the UN-HABITAT in Nairobi, Kenya. Her work has been published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional AffairsPacific Affairs, the Economic and Political Weekly, and in edited book chapters. Her research has been quoted in media outlets, including The Guardian and Open Magazine. 

Balakrishnan holds a Master’s Degree in City Planning from MIT, a Master’s Degree in Urban Design from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in Urban Planning from Harvard University. Her doctoral dissertation was awarded the 2014 Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) Gill Chin Lim Award for Best Dissertation on International Planning.

Selected publications:


Balakrishnan, S., Shareholder Cities: Agrarian-Urban Land Commodification and Uneven Development in India’s Corridor Regions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

Refereed articles

Balakrishnan, S. “Recombinant Urbanization: Agrarian-urban Landed Property and Uneven Development in India,” International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, vol. 43 no. 4 (2019): 617-632.

Balakrishnan, S. “Seeing Mumbai through its Hinterland: Entangled Agrarian-Urban Land Markets in Regional Mumbai,” Economic and Political Weekly, April 2018.

Balakrishnan, S. “Highway Urbanization and Land Conflicts: The Challenges to Decentralization in India,” Special Issue on “Decentralization and Urban Transformation in Asia,” Pacific Affairs, vol. 86 no.4 (2013): 785-811.

Book chapters

Balakrishnan, S. “Narratives of Waste Land: Politics of Land Commodification and Decommodification in Liberalizing India,” in Asher Ghertner and Robert Lake (eds), Land Fictions, Ithaca: Cornell University Press (Forthcoming).

Balakrishnan, S. “New Towns in India.” In Ann Forsyth and Rick Pieser (eds) New Towns, University of Pennsylvania Press (Forthcoming).

Balakrishnan, S. “Land-based Financing for Infrastructure: What is New About India’s Land Conflicts?” In R.Nagaraj and Sripad Motiram (eds) Political Economy of Contemporary India, Delhi: Cambridge University Press (2017).

Balakrishnan, S. “Peri-Urban Land Markets in Bangalore: New Conditions of Informality and a New Politics of Inclusion.” In Eugenie Birch, Shahana Chattaraj and Susan Wachter (Eds) Informal Real Estate Markets, University of Pennsylvania Press (2017).

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Sai Balakrishnan in her office at the Harvard GSD.