Coral Gables’ Jim Cason eyes further beautification
Jim Cason, the mayor of Coral Gables, wants to give his wealthy enclave adjacent to Miami an environmental tuneup.
With its 45,000 people, Gables has clean streets and flourishing plant life, sprinkled with a feeling of contentment. But, when Cason was elected this year, the city’s trademark majestic canopies were no longer enough. As a U.S. representative overseas for four decades, he has seen first-hand what indiscriminate cutting of trees and other environmental violations can do to countries and standards of living.
“Coral Gables values and maintains the environment,” said Cason, a proud grandfather of four who graduated from Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University and the National War College — and served at U.S. embassies in Paraguay, Honduras, Jamaica, Portugal, Italy, El Salvador, Panama, Bolivia, Venezuela and Uruguay.
Cason does not see his green and leafy city as a finished product. Instead, he boasts that the existing greenery is a fortunate starting spot that he and his Green Task Force will improve upon.
Since becoming mayor, Cason has created a multi-part plan to protect and boost the environment that includes repopulating plant life, using solar energy, and adding new and improved methods of transportation.
He says the plan includes “reinvesting money on city landscaping and beautification.”
Gables is home to half a million trees, but, with several thousand eliminated by hurricanes, Cason’s plan includes efforts to replant busy areas like Alhambra Circle and Ponce De Leon Boulevard.
“We’re looking to redo the downtown streetscape, add electric cars, replace sidewalks,” he said. And Coral Gables is encouraging residents to capitalize on available technology and install solar panels on their homes by granting long-term tax credits as an incentive.
Brook Dannemiller, a Green Task Force member, is excited about the mayor’s efforts, including bike lanes, sidewalks and public space improvements.
“These projects offer more than just aesthetic and economic benefits,” Dannemiller said. “They are an investment in the city’s pedestrian infrastructure that will improve public health and safety by promoting walking and biking as safe and viable alternatives to driving around our beautiful city.”
Others are not so excited. Nick Nichols, a resident since 1952, said that, over the years, he has “seen the changes of Coral Gables.” He said his skepticism about implementation of Cason’s environmental plans stems from previous city improvement initiatives.
Adding sidewalks is often a waste of money, Nichols said, and it eliminates traffic lanes. He also said that tree-planting is not always done properly, and electric vehicles are a good concept but still use a lot of energy.
Cason calls Coral Gables an “international cosmopolitan area,” with an average income double that of neighboring cities and an adult population holding mostly university degrees. “This is a unique city in terms of code enforcement,” he said. “There are high standards of what people can and cannot do.”
Leading by example, Cason successfully lobbied for non-reflecting, energy-conserving windows and energy-efficient light bulbs in City Hall.
The drive to revamp is a result of his appreciation for the environment. When he was an employee of the National Park Service, Cason was responsible for “planting, watering, picking up trash,” and it was through those duties that a love for the environment began.
Following his work with the NPS, Cason went overseas for 40 years as a career diplomat in 14 countries in Europe and Latin America. His work included protecting rainforests and animals — and working on water quality.
“I’ve seen so many ruined environments,” said Cason, who once served as an ambassador in Paraguay, where 85 percent of the tropical rainforests were gone. “In Panama,” he said, “There was indiscriminate cutting of trees.”