Detroit's Eastern Market open-air market on a crowded and sunny day. Shoppers and vendors in view.
Eastern Market Pavilion Eastern Market Pavilion, downtown Detroit. © Michael D-L Jordan/dlp

Stories in Michigan

Eastern Market Partnership

A model for building climate-resilient cities.

For more than 100 years, it has been a familiar sight in Detroit’s iconic Eastern Market district: the massive red brick market shed teeming on Saturday mornings with customers and local vendors, farm fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and baked goods. Often spoken of as one of the oldest open-air public markets in the country, Detroit’s Eastern Market is a diverse, storied and thriving social and cultural environment.

TNC has partnered with Eastern Market Corporation to help it become a thriving natural environment as well. 

Aerial view of an x-shaped roof over an open-air market surrounded by parking, with the city skyline in the background.
Eastern Market District Since its beginning as one of the country's oldest open-air markets, Eastern Market has become a diverse community of food-related businesses and residential neighborhoods. © Fauna Creative

The Eastern Market district sits right in the middle of the recent economic resurgence of Detroit’s downtown and midtown and is among a few select, but critical, areas that are under pressure to expand and redevelop.

However, as a unique blend of open-air market, industrial food-processing businesses and residential housing, the Eastern Market district presents unique challenges to redevelopment. Not to mention, the market core is one of the most impervious areas of the city, consisting mostly of parking lots and paved roads. 

A Model for Conservation

Like many aging cities in North America, Detroit's infrastructure is in need of extensive upgrades to combat the surface flooding and combined sewer overflows that have become increasingly more common as heavy rain events become more frequent. However, traditional "gray" infrastructure is extremely costly; for a city whose limited dollars must cover a multitude of critical needs, an alternative solution must be found.

We believe green stormwater infrastructure—the installation of plants, trees and permeable surfaces to help capture and slow stormwater runoff—may be that alternative solution. Less costly than traditional stormwater infrastructure, engineered natural infrastructure reduces the burden on cities' sewer systems, reduces street and basement flooding, and ultimately reduces the amount of pollutants entering our waterways. Further, it provides habitat for wildlife and green spaces for recreation and beautifies neighborhoods.

TNC has partnered with Detroit’s iconic Eastern Market, a historic food district, to bring green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to the district. GSI is an engineered design that uses green space and natural plant material to absorb, retain and slow stormwater runoff.

This work is part of the Eastern Market Neighborhood Framework plan, a vision that thinks big and creatively about GSI, with an eye toward the preservation of the Eastern Market community. Envisioning an expansive, multi-acre network of greenways that manage stormwater, the framework calls for beautiful, publicly accessible natural spaces to be incorporated into the redevelopment footprint of new buildings constructed in the Greater Eastern Market.

Learn more about conservation in Detroit.

We know access to nature makes for stronger, healthier and more resilient communities.

Detroit Program Director
Black and white photo of a crowded market, with a vendor leaning over a table of produce for sale.
Eastern Market Shoppers Shoppers select produce from vendors at Detroit's Eastern Market, August 14, 1937. © Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Nature Driving Design

Our driving questions related to the  masterplan are these: What happens if we put nature at the beginning of the redevelopment process for the greater Eastern Market district, rather than the end? What if nature could be the solution to our infrastructure challenges, to the problem of managing stormwater, rather than an afterthought? And, what if the redevelopment process itself, led by nature, could bring a tightly-knit community even closer together, rather than tear them apart?

The Eastern Market revitalization is being guided by green stormwater infrastructure in a way that the design and redevelopment of other Detroit neighborhoods currently is not. Nature is driving the Eastern Market design in a way that not only solves problems with stormwater, but that preserves the authentic and diverse fabric of the unique Eastern Market district.

Digital rendering of a young man walking through a park that has implemented Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI)
Gem Greenway GSI in the city of Detroit © Eastern Market

In the place of a more traditional development paradigm, where parcel-by-parcel green stormwater features are installed by individuals as the need arises, the centralized stormwater management feature masterplan provides a shared vision for how natural infrastructure will be integrated into the district prior to its installation. This ensures that the Eastern Market district continues to thrive as it always has, while also ensuring that nature can thrive, too.

Black and white photo of a man on a sidewalk holding a large basket of apples, surrounded by more baskets at his feet.
Apple Vendor at Detroit Market A Detroit vendor smiles holding a bushel of apples, with bushels at his feet and shoppers and storefronts in background, October 18, 1912. © Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University