Remodeling the Plaza

Good news: Ashland is addressing the sorry state of the Plaza, and asking for the community's help in deciding what to do. Not-so-good news: The project is limited to the triangular space in the center of the Plaza, and won't address the auto-centric nature of one of Ashland's primary gathering spaces outside of Lithia Park.

The landscape architecture firm selected to conduct public outreach and design made it clear in an initial public meeting last week that traffic changes are outside the scope of the project. Also off the table are any changes to the Lithia water fountains, the Iron Mike statue or the information kiosk.

That means changes will largely be confined to the grassy areas and the trees, which are not doing well in their present locations.

Heavy use of the Plaza has compacted the soil on the lawn areas. Wooden benches have deteriorated.

Parks and Recreation Department Horticulturist Anne Thayer, a certified arborist, recommends gradually replacing the unsuitable trees with species that can thrive in confined spaces. That's a good move, as is removing the lawn areas that are suffering from overuse.

Some residents have objected to a suggestion that the benches be replaced by low concrete walls for people to sit on. They said that didn't seem inviting or comfortable, and asked for seating that would allow people to lean back and face each other.

Residents should keep in mind that the Plaza is just steps away from Lithia Park, which offers expanses of lawn and plenty of comfortable places to sit. The Plaza is a more urban setting where people tend to move through on their way to someplace else, stopping briefly to sit but not spending a long time.

It's also worth noting that offering seating that invites people to sit for long periods will be more attractive to Ashland's homeless population — the folks who now tend to occupy the grassy areas. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's worth considering.

The city's website, www.ashland.or.us, lays out three potential design ideas as well as photos of other urban plazas, including Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square and PSU Urban Plaza. A common feature of those other urban spaces is concrete step or wall seating.

A more expansive — and expensive — redesign of the Plaza might address the car traffic that now surrounds the central Plaza on all sides. But the three concepts presented so far offer a start to the conversation.

One of the concepts would include a stage area for performances — a good idea that would get plenty of use.

Two more public meetings on the plans are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, July 9 in the Community Development Department Building, 51 Winburn Way. Come out and offer your ideas and comments as this project takes shape.

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