Nestled in the iconic Eastern Market District in Detroit, Sacred Heart Church was built in 1875 and declared a Michigan State Historical Site one hundred years later. Like many of Detroit’s historic sites, Sacred Heart was built long before the city’s present challenges with stormwater and infrastructure, and its parking lot has become an all-too-familiar sight in the Detroit landscape: a vast, concrete expanse with moss growing through the cracked pavement, spotted by large puddles of standing water with nowhere to go except the city’s overtaxed water system.
At The Nature Conservancy (TNC), we see a different vision for the Sacred Heart parking lot; one with trees, native plants and green spaces designed to capture stormwater runoff. Using nature to make the old new again, TNC worked hand-in-hand with the church community to install a series of green stormwater facilities, all at no cost to Sacred Heart Church.
Concrete Change at Sacred Heart
What is green stormwater infrastructure?
Across Detroit, community groups, local nonprofits and city planners are implementing or supporting the implementation of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to improve stormwater management. Green stormwater infrastructure—installing plants, trees and permeable surfaces to help capture and slow stormwater runoff—provides numerous benefits.
Green stormwater features like the Sacred Heart Church retrofit are essential in cities to reduce local flooding and the impact of stormwater on local waterways. These features also serve as a living testament to local communities of the power and efficiency of green stormwater infrastructure in building resilient, sustainable and beautiful cities for America’s urban population.
Green Stormwater Infrastructure in Detroit
What makes TNC Detroit’s Sacred Heart retrofit so unique is the project’s scale. The new Sacred Heart parking lot manages more than 1.31 acres of impervious surface, making it one of the largest faith-based, green stormwater infrastructure retrofit projects in the city of Detroit.
While the retrofit serves to beautify the grounds and help to control stormwater runoff, its scale also makes a compelling case for the real-world impact of green stormwater infrastructure. The city, local businesses and the non-profit community can visualize and experience the many benefits of these kinds of installations.
Sacred Heart in Full Bloom
Engaging the Community
Sacred Heart Church is home to over 3,000 parishioners who represent a diverse range of communities throughout the City of Detroit and surrounding suburbs, each one of whom can take their first-hand experience of how green stormwater infrastructure features look and work through this retrofit project back to their friends, family and neighbors.
The Sacred Heart Church retrofit is a vital piece of how TNC is pioneering new ways to think about the intersection of human and environmental well-being in dense cities. The simple presence of trees, plants and green spaces at Sacred Heart Church represents a creative and evolving collaboration between TNC and the Eastern Market community to use nature-based solutions to stormwater management. Through these efforts, we are helping people come together around natural spaces that also play a functional role in solving Detroit’s water and infrastructure challenges.
Sacred Heart Garden Club
Formed to support and maintain the green stormwater infrastructure retrofit project at Sacred Heart Church, the Garden Club is a cohort of change-makers from this community. They are passionate about incorporating nature, flowers and greenery onto church grounds and have volunteered their time and energy to provide landscaping, maintenance and continuing care to the grounds of the church.
Members of the Club were critical throughout the process–They assisted with the selection of plants, informed the layout and garden design of the GSI facilities, and will continue to maintain it into the future. While The Nature Conservancy will continue to engage with Garden Club members and provide training around native plant maintenance, the activities of the Garden Club are vital to the upkeep of the GSI features and their ongoing love and attention continues to beautify Sacred Heart Church.
Garden Club Members
Eric Blount, Verladia Blount, Chris Bond, Marvie Bryant, Shirley Clinton, Cecilia Collins, Deborah DeDona, Cathey DeSantis, Cheryl Green, Morgan Jones, Ann Kapaz, Needa Llompart, Mary Grace Hamilton Lucas, Mary Moore, Patricia Schuh-Harris, Alexander Taylor (leader), Evelyn Williams, Carlotta Wilson
What's next for Sacred Heart?
In June 2022, TNC and Sacred Heart Church held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of this landmark project—and the people who made it happen. This marks the end of TNC’s formal involvement in this project, which has included providing volunteer stewardship training and maintaining the gardens for their first several growing seasons. Going forward, the church’s Garden Club will make sure the gardens continue to thrive.
This project will continue to be an impactful demonstration of the importance of GSI as TNC encourages Detroit developers to take it up as a standard practice for stormwater management.