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Sai Balakrishnan

Tue, Nov 14, 2023    2pm

India’s Spatial Divide: The Agrarian Origins of Urban Inequalities

A lecture by Sai Balakrishnan, Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, organized as part of the Lectures in Planning Series (LiPS) at Columbia GSAPP.

The talk, as its starting point, uses the large-scale migrant crisis precipitated by the lockdown imposed by the Indian Government in March 2020 as a response to COVID-19. As informal migrant workers undertook treacherous journeys on foot back to their villages, these routes made visible the geography of uneven development in India - residents in the eastern swathes of the country are forced to migrate to the more prosperous northern and western regions in search of work. To understand the deeper roots of the urban migrant crisis, this talk excavates older agrarian inequalities from the Green Revolution decades, and shows how contemporary urbanization accretes in unexpected ways onto India’s agrarian past. This is not only a narrative on India’s urbanization, but poses larger methodological and political questions for planners on what is at stake when we focus only on the city, and bracket out the agrarian in our planning theories and practices.

Sai Balakrishnan is an Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning, in a joint appointment with DCRP and GMS (Global Metropolitan Studies).

Her research and teaching broadly pivot around global urban inequalities. She has worked as an urban planner in the United States, India, and the United Arab Emirates, and as a consultant to the UN-HABITAT, Nairobi. Her work has been published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Urban Studies, Pacific Affairs, Economic and Political Weekly, and in edited book chapters. Her research has been quoted in media outlets, including The Guardian and Open Magazine. Balakrishnan’s recent book, Shareholder Cities: Land Transformations along Urban Corridors in India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019) explores the urbanization of the agrarian countryside in the global south.

Organized by the Urban Planning Program at Columbia GSAPP.