Former colleagues of Ashland Community Development Director John Fregonese were stunned to hear of his sudden, unexpected death from cancer over the weekend in Portland, where he had lived since leaving Ashland in 1992. He leaves behind a vision of what cities can be, and many features of Ashland that appeal to residents today are the result of his work in the 1980s.
A newspaper profile of Fregonese written as he was preparing to take a job with Metro, the Portland three-county governmental agency, describes a poster on the wall of his Ashland office. The poster comprised eight photographs of the same street in the Netherlands.
The first showed the street jammed with automobile traffic. The next showed the street occupied by just the drivers, standing where their cars had been; then the people straddling bicycles, then the street empty except for a bus. Those are multiple ways of dealing with traffic, a preoccupation of Fregonese’s when he worked on the comprehensive plan the city still follows.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, as he met opposition at times. But city officials during his 13-year tenure point to features of Ashland that remain his legacy — such as open space within a quarter mile of every resident, including North Mountain Park, Strawberry-Hald and other parks.
Fregonese went on to work on European downtown plans and regional plans across this country, but he returned to Ashland as a consultant, offering advice on affordable housing as recently as 2016. He will be missed.