Church parking lot with rain garden and bioswales.

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 urban landscape: a vast, concrete expanse with moss growing up through the cracked pavement, spotted by large puddles of standing water with nowhere to go save the city’s overtaxed water system.  

But we see a different vision for this parking lot; one with trees, native plants and green spaces designed to capture stormwater runoff.  

JASON WHALEN | Fauna Creative
JASON WHALEN | Fauna Creative © © Fauna Creative

Using nature to make the old new again, TNC is working 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 both reduce local flooding and the stormwater impact on waterways and to 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. 


What makes TNC Detroit’s Sacred Heart retrofit so unique is the project’s scale. When completed, 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.

The Sacred Heart parking lot retrofit will beautify the grounds and help the church to control stormwater runoff. But also—and importantly—its scale will make a compelling case for the real-world impact of green stormwater infrastructure, helping the city, local businesses and the non-profit community visualize and experience the many benefits of these kinds of installations. 

The Sacred Heart Church project will serve 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. What’s also exciting about TNC Detroit’s Sacred Heart project is the performance monitoring technology that will be included as part of the retrofit. With this system, we’ll be gathering real-time infiltration data from the project site to measure the difference between how much runoff we think it will capture versus how much runoff it does. This data will provide a basis for evaluating sizing and design requirements for green stormwater infrastructure installations city-wide and could potentially drive down some of the current design and cost barriers faced by property owners, making it easier for them to install green stormwater infrastructure.

With our work at Sacred Heart Church, we’re developing a set of metrics by which to measure and evaluate the design and impact of these kinds of retrofit projects that will have long-term benefits for work happening throughout the city.

Demonstrating green infrastructure in Detroit
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 the Sacred Heart Church represents a creative and evolving collaboration between TNC and the Eastern Market community around nature-based solutions to stormwater management: people coming together around natural spaces that also play a functional role in solving Detroit’s water and infrastructure challenges.