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.
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


New Green Infrastructure at Sacred Heart Church Helps All

Improved Parking Lot Provided by The Nature Conservancy Benefits Local Church

Detroit, MI

As part of The Nature Conservancy’s goal to help make Detroit one of the greenest cities in America, TNC recently turned pavement into paradise by adding green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) to the parking lot at Sacred Heart Church, one of the city’s most historic places of worship.

The new parking lot retrofits the existing 1.3 acres of hard surface with a bioretention installation. The project features a blend of native plants and flowers to help soak up and filter stormwater that runs off the pavement and rooftops, thereby reducing the impact on the environment and saving the church money on their sewer bill.

“The minute that there’s a big rain event, the pipe system, the sewer system overflows into the Detroit and Rouge Rivers, and that’s where green infrastructure comes into play,” said Valerie Strassberg, P.E., TNC’s urban conservation director for Detroit.

“We anticipate that this is going to keep about 1.5 million gallons out of the combined sewer system on an average year,” Strassberg said. “So, we’re reducing pressure on the pipes, reducing treatment at the plants, reducing the drainage charge for the church. But what’s bigger than all those things is that Sacred Heart can display and demonstrate what they want their city and their community to look like in the future.”

The church’s 3,000 members agree and are looking forward to officially dedicating the finished project at a ribbon cutting celebration taking place in Spring 2020.

“It isn’t just about a parking lot, it’s going to be something that enhances the whole area,” said parish priest Father Norman Thomas.

The project is just one component of TNC’s conservation work focused on improving green infrastructure in Detroit as part of the global organization’s focus on building healthy cities. TNC also led the development of the Detroit Stormwater Hub, an online tool (website) for individuals and organizations to understand, collaborate around and track the city-wide progress and impact of GSI. The Hub, now owned and managed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, is a collaboratively built collection of locally relevant GSI information.

TNC is also partnering with the Eastern Market Partnership to bring GSI to the greater Eastern Market district as a part of the implementation of the city’s Eastern Market Neighborhood Framework and Stormwater Management Network Plan.

“The Framework Plan thinks big and creatively about GSI, with an eye toward the preservation of the iconic Eastern Market community,” Strassberg said.

She noted that the Framework Plan calls for beautiful, publicly accessible natural spaces adjacent to the city center that also manage stormwater across the district. This will be achieved by favoring a larger network of neighborhood-scale features rather than individually dispersed green stormwater installations. A larger network also would include features that utilize underground storage along with engineered landscapes and native plants.

“We only have one Earth. What we’re introducing here to this community is a process of finding ways to conserve the great gift of water that we’ve been given,” said John Thorne, Sacred Heart’s Minister of Music. “This will be a teaching moment to show how we can be engaged,” Thorne said. “Simple things we can do on our own that can have a greater impact for our Earth.”

A newly released video tells the story of “the parking lot project,” as Father Thomas fondly calls it. Major funding for the project came from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.