As Joanne Lemley, a recent transplant from Italy, surveyed the newly reconstructed downtown Ashland Plaza during a dedication ceremony on Friday evening, she said it seemed oddly familiar.
"It reminds me of Italian plazas," she said. "We're in America, and they're making Italian plazas. It makes me feel at home."
Lemley, along with her brother Ferruccio Lemley and mother Laura Fontani, were on hand to watch the lowering of a time capsule into a newly landscaped area on the Plaza.
The event was part of a celebration attended by about 150 people to celebrate the end of four months of work to replace concrete underfoot with pavers, build low concrete walls to protect landscaping and double as seating, install benches, eliminate lawn areas and replace several suffering trees with new species suited to the urban environment.
In the next week or so, local artist Sue Springer will finish installing abstract mosaic friezes symbolizing the flow of people and time on the sides of the concrete walls.
The family from Italy donated a ceramic jewelry box made by a Tuscan friend to be buried with dozens of other items from community members in the time capsule.
"We want to give to America something that we have," Joanne Lemley said.
In 100 years, Ashland residents will open the time capsule — crafted by the city of Ashland's own street department workers from metal water pipe — and ponder the contents.
Items in the newly buried time capsule include a photo of the Ashland High School 2013 senior class, a playbill and souvenir program from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a collection of watercolor note cards featuring Ashland scenes, books, historic photos and current photos of residents and their families, an iPhone and many other objects and documents.
Mayor John Stromberg, speaking at the dedication, said people will gradually get used to the new look of the Plaza.
"This is like a new car. I go and sit and get a feel for it," he said.
Stromberg said mingling with friends, acquaintances and strangers in public places like the Plaza can help residents build a sense of community.
The Plaza project has faced controversy, with some saying they didn't like plans to remove lawn areas, cut mature trees or install concrete walls.
"It will look better as things grow in," said resident Cathy Moore as she surveyed new saplings and shrubs growing on the Plaza.
Some mature trees were left on site, but others were cut down.
Dan Moore, a former member of Ashland's Tree Commission, said it can be disconcerting to remove trees, but trees in urban environments don't survive as long as their counterparts in the woods anyway and can pose safety risks.
"After you get over the shock, then you can appreciate the physical and landscape architecture involved," he said of the redesigned Plaza. "I think it's good for the community."
The reconstruction of the Plaza was designed by the local firm Covey Pardee Landscape Architects and was carried out by the Ausland Group and city employees.
City workers took on the project in addition to carrying out their regular duties, said City Administrator Dave Kanner.
The Plaza reconstruction — including design, archaeological work to mitigate any impact on underground American Indian artifacts, on-the-ground work and the mosaics — was budgeted at almost $209,000, according to contract amounts for the work.
The money comes from Ashland lodging taxes set aside for economic development and tourism promotion.
Resident Rachel Shapiro said the style of the Plaza is now different, but she likes it.
"I don't know if I miss the grass. This will be more useful. There are a lot of events that happen on the Plaza," Shapiro said. "This will give people more to work with."
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.