Melissa Heil


  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Master of Arts in Geography (2016)
  • University of Michigan - Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Studies (2011)

I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Cities and Metropolitan Areas tract.  My research examines the institutions, practices, and spaces which enable people to meet their basic welfare needs (e.g., food, water, shelter) and thereby maintain their claims to place in the face of changing urban governances.  Regionally, I have focused on cities of the American rust belt, cities being transformed by austerity urbanism and gentrifying redevelopment agendas.  My research considers:

  1. The production of governances that deny people access to survival resources (e.g., austerity rollbacks of the welfare state)
  2. The changing politics and practices of social reproduction in the aftermath of state withdrawal, especially those of philanthropic foundations and the professionalized non-profit sector
  3. The ways categories and geographies of difference, including race, gender, and (dis)ability, are incorporated into and reinforced by these changing geographies. 

My dissertation research studies how austerity governances have changed systems of urban water provisioning in Flint and Detroit, Michigan.  The poisoning of Flint’s population that resulted from cost-saving water treatment measures, colloquially known as the “Flint Water Crisis,” and the water service disconnection of thousands of Detroit households with overdue bills in order to raise revenues are two austerity-induced ruptures in the usual practices of social reproduction in American cities. My research focuses on two aspects of these ruptures: 1) the role of finance capital, debt, and austerity governances in creating these crises and 2) the emerging “shadow state” of non-state actors which now facilitate water access for people in these cities. 

Previously, my master's thesis research examined the roles Community Development Corporations (CDCs) play in changing Detroit neighborhoods. I am also the creator of the "Illinois Atlas of Austerity" a website which cartographically mapped the harm being done to various sites of social reproduction in Illinois during the two years the state operated without a budget. 

Courses Taught

  • Instructor and TA Geog 101: Global Development & Environment
  • TA Geog 104: Social and Cultural Geography
  • Instructor Geog 204: Cities of the World