The essential themes of Ashland are a throwback to a bygone era. And people live and visit here for those very reasons — to get away from the city and relax in an historically small-town ambience. As everyone knows, Ashland hosts the largest repertory Shakespeare theatre company in the U.S.A., with over 1,000 individuals participating, and is a landmark destination for that very reason. People who are drawn here desire and expect to find that historic ambience referenced in our architecture and city sites. When they fail to find it, they are disappointed, as longtime resident Mr. T.T. Gaffey so eloquently related to me and councilor Pam Marsh last week during a discussion on the Plaza about the recent redesign. The many longtime tourists he has spoken with are greatly disappointed by the stark gray urban look of the new Plaza. This is a common theme voiced by many living and visiting here.
Part of the problem with the recent contemporary/historic model for our city centre Plaza is that it's attempting to fashion downtown Ashland into the likeness of other places that it is not, never can, nor should ever be. The large urban/yuppie plazas which have been exemplified as comparable to the model of our current Plaza by several councilors, whether found in N.Y.C. or Europe, do not impart the unique themes of our charming town, or reflect its history or culture. The downtown Plaza looks more like it belongs in a strip mall than it does in Ashland.
The feeling of our town centre should embody the elements of our town, not other places. And for our town center, we need a Plaza reflective of our special historic town, with all of its amazing qualities. It cries out for central focal point such as a fountain or a raised arbor area to convey a feeling of this unique place, and to identify and link the Plaza as the heart of our city's culture.
The problem of the stark gray pavers is not going to go away or ever be covered up or colored over by any amount of moveable furniture, as suggested by some councilors. The dark gray morass is simply too pervasive and dominating. And attempting to "fill the space with color" is simply a superficial attempt to varnish over the essential boring blandness of the Plaza design. The Plaza needs a much deeper, more fundamental fix to address its core problems: New richly colored pavers in such colors as are found in the OSF, much more greenery, and a central focal point such as a traditional fountain or a raised arbor area to embody the old-world flavor of our town in a physical form. The fix will cost little compared to the original cost of the Plaza, and the benefits to Ashland will be enormous!
David Sherr lives in Ashland.