Computer rendering of a church parking lot with rain garden and bioswales.
Sacred Heart Church Incorporating green stormwater infrastructure into Sacred Heart's parking lot will help capture and slow rainwater runoff and reduce the church's stormwater utility bill. © TNC

Stories in Michigan

The Heart of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Demonstrating the benefits of green stormwater infrastructure at Detroit's historic Sacred Heart Church.

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 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.  

Concrete Change - Sacred Heart Church Demonstrating the benefits of green stormwater infrastructure at Detroit's historic Sacred Heart Church. This video was funded by TNC’s North America Cities Network via The JPB Foundation to support storytelling that highlights communities leading in urban conservation.

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.

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. 

An asphalt parking lot with potholes, cracks and traffic cones, next to a large brick church with a tall spire.
Sacred Heart Church The parking lot at Detroit's Sacred Heart Church prior to renovation. © Fauna Creative


What makes TNC Detroit’s Sacred Heart retrofit so unique is the project’s scale. The new Sacred Heart parking lot will manage 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. 

The Sacred Heart Church project serves as a transferable and scalable model for other retrofit green infrastructure projects in Detroit.

Detroit Program Director


The project isn't only about the installation. With this system, we are gathering real-time infiltration data and measuring the amount of runoff that is actually being captured onsite This data provides a basis for evaluating size and design requirements for green stormwater infrastructure installations city-wide and could drive down some of the current design and cost barriers faced by property owners, making it easier for them to install green stormwater infrastructure.

These metrics will help evaluate the design and impact of these kinds of retrofit and will have long-term benefits for work happening throughout the city.

TNC staff speaking with Sacred Heart parishioner in front of a table with a black tablecloth with a white TNC logo on it.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT TNC staff are on hand at Sacred Heart events to talk about green stormwater infrastructure and its benefits. © TNC/Melissa Molenda


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 (GSI) 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 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