Sowmya Balachandran, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Dr. Sowmya Balachandran

Dr. Sowmya Balachandran is an urban planning scholar who teaches in the Urban Policy and Planning (UPOP) program. She brings over 15 years of professional and research experience in architecture and urban planning, along with extensive leadership and mentoring experiences. Raised in Chennai, India, Sowmya began her professional work in consulting for public institutions on projects involving post tsunami evaluation studies, city level comprehensive plans and strategic plans. Later she co-founded and directed Alchemy Urban Systems, a professional consulting company which specialized in four sectors of work - land use and development planning, post-disaster reconstruction, comprehensive urban mobility planning, and decentralized water resource management. Sowmya also directed an affordable housing company where she set up, the first of its kind housing facilitation center with social impact investment from Dell foundation in Ahmedabad, India.

Sowmya has taught undergraduate and graduate courses on land use planning, planning theory, housing and community development, and community-engaged neighborhood planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and at Florida State University. Sowmya received her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where her research investigated the influence of community nonprofit intermediaries in enabling access to homeownership for historically marginalized and minority families in the Chicago region.

Primary Research Interests: 

I study poverty, poverty risk, and economic mobility in transnational geographies. My sub-field of specialization is housing and community development. Within the domain of housing, I focus on evaluating access to credit, housing, and mortgage markets and the role of State assistance in affordable housing production.  Within community development, my work makes visible power structures, foregrounds the planning practices of marginalized communities, and innovates methods and theory for realizing social justice. In my scholarship, I often engage in mixed methods research combining qualitative ethnographic studies with quantitative spatial and statistical analyses.

Other Information: 

Hobbies: I enjoy drawing and painting. I am a novice at oil painting, but it truly inspires and transports me to a better place. I also love making charcoal sketches, the study of light and shadow, and I usually pick people around me for my portraits.

Fun Facts: I speak four languages fluently (Tamil, English, Hindi and Gujarati). I plan to learn Spanish next!

Chilton 204M