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Harvard University will be well-represented at the upcoming Contemporary South Asian City Conference (Pakistan Urban Forum). The conference, which is being held from January 9th to 12th in Karachi, will bring together a multidisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners to explore new frontiers in research on the contemporary South Asian city. The panelists at the conference will be politicians, bureaucrats, architects, planners, activists, environmentalists and representatives from various divisions of the Federal and Provincial government.

Harvard is sending a team of scholars, students and doctors to represent Harvard at the mega-conference. They will participate in panels related to mental health, urbanization, housing, disaster response, and urban architecture. There are over 2,500 participants registered, and the conference will span 4 days.

The team hopes to generate new knowledge and insight into the driving forces, socioeconomic challenges and political implications facing the contemporary South Asian city. Partners include The Aman Foundation. 

Click here to see the conference schedule. 


Satchit Balsari

Fellow, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
Director, Global Emergency Medicine Program, Weill Cornell Medical College / NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

Dr. Balsari’s interests are focused on the development of pre-hospital care, emergency medicine and community-focused disaster mitigation methods in low-income settings. Dr. Balsari trained and worked at the Program on Humanitarian Crises  at the Harvard School of Public Health from 2001 to 2004. As a graduate of Grant Medical College, and a resident of Mumbai, he has experience working with children in the aftermath of natural and humanitarian disasters in India, including the Bhuj earthquake of 2001. He served as a consultant to the American Red Cross public health team in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Balsari founded two non-profit organizations in Mumbai, whose work is focused on health and educational initiatives among the urban poor.

Dr. Balsari’s current projects include EMcounter, an online tool aimed at capturing the epidemiology of medical emergencies in rural and urban India, and project mumbaiVOICES, a web-based application that facilitates a citizen driven analysis of urban disaster response. He recently served as Jt. Organizing Secretary of the Mumbai Emergency Management Exercise (MEMEx), in which HHI was a key collaborator. Dr. Balsari is guest editor at, and a member of  the Managing Committee of the Times Disaster Management Center at Mumbai University. He also serves as reviewer for the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Panels: “Mental Health and the Urban Environment” and “Disaster and Mass Casualty Response in Urban Crisis”


Ruth Barron

Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
Director of Outpatient Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance

Expertise: disaster psychiatry; psychological trauma; humanitarian worker stress





Meena Hewett

Executive Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI)

Meena provides the administrative leadership to SAI’s day to day operations. She works with the faculty across all professional schools at Harvard University and the College, as well as at peer institutions to catalyze interdisciplinary partnerships on issues critical to South Asia with the goal to generate new knowledge on critical issues facing the region. She oversees the work of SAI offices at Harvard, Dhaka, Karachi, Lahore, Delhi and Mumbai, which works with think tanks, governments, NGOs, and south Asianists and connects them to faculty and students at Harvard.

Some initiatives include building a platform for the ongoing study of the complex and inter-related issues around water, its use and management, mobile technology for health, education and finance, urbanization, disaster management and mental health, adolescent curriculum reform to better understand gender roles, and religion, secularism and governance in South Asia. Meena also worked with MIT, IIT-Delhi and Harvard faculty to launch a multi-year training program for young Indian students to learn from post doctoral students from Harvard and MIT, about brain science, through a two week summer immersion program in Delhi. Meena engages with Harvard students to support and strengthen their connection between the university and South Asia. She works with faculty grants committees to award grants for internships and research.


Jennifer Leaning

François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights
Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University

Dr. Leaning’s research and policy interests include issues of public health, medical ethics, and early warning in response to war and disaster, human rights and international humanitarian law in crisis settings, and problems of human security in the context of forced migration and conflict. She has field experience in problems of public health assessment and human rights in a range of crisis situations (including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Kosovo, the Middle East, former Soviet Union, Somalia, the Chad-Darfur border, and the African Great Lakes area) and has written widely on these issues.

Dr. Leaning serves on the boards of The Humane Society of the United States, and the Massachusetts Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross. She formerly served on the board of Physicians for Human Rights (an organization she co-founded), Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Oxfam America.  She is Visiting Editor of the British Medical Journal, serves on the editorial board of Health and Human Rights, and is a member of the Board of Syndics at Harvard University Press. From 1999 to 2005, Dr. Leaning directed the Program on Humanitarian Crises and Human Rights at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, during which time Dr. Leaning also served as Editor-in-Chief of Medicine & Global Survival, an international quarterly. From 2005-2009, Dr. Leaning founded and co-directed the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Panels: “Mental Health and the Urban Environment” and “Disaster and Mass Casualty Response in Urban Crisis”


Rahul Mehrotra

Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Mehrorta is a practicing architect, urban designer, and educator. His firm, RMA Architects, was founded in 1990 in Mumbai and has designed and executed projects for clients that include government and non-governmental agencies, corporate as well as private individuals and institutions. His current research involves looking at India’s medium size cities and the broader emergent patterns of urbanism in India. Mehrotra’s ongoing research is focused on evolving a theoretical framework for designing in conditions of informal growth – what he refers to as the ‘Kinetic City’. He has run several studios looking at various aspects of planning questions in the city of Mumbai, under the rubric of “Extreme Urbanism”

Mehrotra has written and lectured extensively on issues to do with architecture, conservation, and urban planning in Mumbai and India. His writings include coauthoring Bombay—The Cities Within, which covers the city’s urban history from the 1600s to the present; Banganga—Sacred Tank; Public Places Bombay; Anchoring a City Line, a history of the city’s commuter railway; and Bombay to Mumbai—Changing Perspectives. He has also coauthored Conserving an Image Center—The Fort Precinct in Bombay.

Mehrotra is a member of the steering committee of the South Asia Initiative at Harvard, and curates their series on Urbanization. He currently is leading a university wide research project with Professor Diana Eck, called The Kumbh Mela – Mapping the Ephemeral City.

Panels: “Professional Practice in South Asia” and “Constructing the ‘Right to the City’ in South Asia: Housing, Governance & the Civic Realm”

Spiro Pollalis

Professor of Design, Technology and Management, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Director, Zofnass Program for the Sustainability of Infrastructure


Since 2008, he is the Director of the Zofnass Program for the Sustainability of Infrastructure that has led to the Envision Rating System. He is also the Principal Investigator of the project “Gulf Sustainable Urbanism” for 10 cities in the Arab Gulf, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. He has taught as a visiting professor at the ETH-Zurich, Switzerland; TU-Delft, Holland; Uni-Stuttgart, Germany; U-Patras, Greece; and has offered joint courses with the Harvard Business School on planning and development. He serves as the co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Future Cities for the Singapore-ETH Center.

Prof. Pollalis is the chief planner for the new DHA City Karachi for 600,000 people, currently under construction, and the concept designer of the information infrastructure in the new administrative city in Korea. He served as the Chairman and CEO of the public company for the redevelopment of Hellinikon, the former Athens airport, and he developed the base master plan and business plan ( He currently serves as a member of the Athens Planning Committee. He has designed two signature bridges: the Main Street Bridge in Columbus Ohio and the Kifisias pedestrian bridge in Athens, Greece, and played a central role in the iconic cable-stayed Zakim Bridge, the new symbol of Boston. Since 1999, Prof. Pollalis has been a contractor to the General Services Administration (GSA) for the “Learning from Our Legacy” program. Professor Pollalis received his first degree from the University in Athens (EMP) and his Master’s and PhD from MIT. His MBA in high technology is from Northeastern University. He has an honorary Master’s degree in Architecture from Harvard.

Panels: “Professional Practice in South Asia” and “Constructing the ‘Right to the City’ in South Asia: Housing, Governance & the Civic Realm”


Justin D. Stern

PhD student in the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning at Harvard University

Justin’s research focuses on the political economy of urban form in rapidly urbanizing cities in Asia, with particular emphasis on East and South Asia. He is currently working on a new comparative research project that explores the relationship between industrialization and urban form in cities in South Asia. Questions addressed in his research include: In what ways do the contemporary urban forms of Asian cities and their dominant building typologies reflect the economic and political restructuring of the previous half century? To what extent has the newfound wealth of late industrializing East Asian nations led to a rediscovery of the urban and, with it, a localized search for the cultural and social dimensions of architecture and the city? And how can the experience of Seoul and other East Asian cities, as inductive role models, better inform rapidly developing regions in South Asia and beyond?

Justin holds a Master of Urban Planning (MUP) from Harvard University and completed his bachelor’s degree in Design Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Oxford. During the 2012-2013 academic year Justin served as a Fulbright Fellow in Seoul, South Korea and was the recipient of a Harvard-Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellowship to support comparative fieldwork in China, Indonesia and the Philippines.  He has presented his work at numerous conferences including the East Asia Regional Organization for Planning and Human Settlements World Congress; the Cosmopolitan China Conference at the University of Manchester; TEDxTaipei; and at the University of Hong Kong Shanghai Center.

Panels: “Constructing the ‘Right to the City’ in South Asia: Housing, Governance & the Civic Realm”