Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Sermon Illustrations

Home > Sermon Illustrations

Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Free Tree-Planting

The city of Detroit was in a campaign to reforest its streets after decades of neglecting its depleted tree canopy. However, the tree-planters met stiff resistance: Roughly a quarter of the 7,500 residents declined offers to have new trees planted in front of their homes.

Researcher Christine Carmichael found that the rejections had more to do with how the tree-planters presented themselves than it did with how residents felt about trees. The residents understood the benefits of having trees in urban environments—they provide shade, absorb air pollution, increase property values, and improve health. But the reasons Detroit folks refused was not that they didn’t trust the trees; they didn’t trust the city.

A couple of African-American women Carmichael talked to linked the tree-planting program to a painful racist moment in Detroit’s history, when the city suddenly began cutting down elm trees in bulk in their neighborhoods. As the women understood it, the city did this so that law enforcement could have better surveilance on their neighborhoods from helicopters after an urban uprising.

However, the government’s reason was that the trees were dying off from the Dutch elm disease. But it was the women’s version that led to their decision to reject the trees. It’s not that they didn’t trust the trees; they didn’t trust the city.

The women felt that the city just came in and cut down their trees, and now they want to just come in planting trees. But they felt they should have a choice in this since they’ll be the ones raking up the leaves when the planters leave. They felt that the decisions were being made by someone else, and they were going to have to deal with the consequences.

Failing to meaningfully involve the residents in the decision-making is a classic mistake. After all, who would turn down a free tree? Perhaps these people just don’t get it.

One Detroit resident whom Carmichael interviewed told her: “You know, I really appreciate you today because that shows that someone is listening. Someone is trying to find out what’s really going on in our thoughts. And maybe next time they can do a survey and ask us, if they would like to have us have the trees.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

Churches and small groups can learn from Detroit’s mistake. It is best to ask for members’ participation in planning and decision-making rather than making authoritative decisions without explanation or discussion.

Related Sermon Illustrations

Condoleezza Rice Advises Accountability

When Katie Couric took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News in 2006, various personalities gave her advice as to what to do and what not to do. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. secretary of ...

[Read More]

The Paralysis of Indecision

To illustrate the paralysis of indecision, international speaker Michael Ramsden tells the story of three turtles who went off to a picnic. One turtle packed sandwiches, another provided ...

[Read More]