At a time when so much seems to be going wrong with the world, Mayor John Stromberg believes Ashland can be a model town for other communities.

At a time when so much seems to be going wrong with the world, Mayor John Stromberg believes Ashland can be a model for other communities.

Stromberg talked about why he thinks Ashland is special during his annual State of the City address. The town's mayor traditionally delivers such a speech during the City Council's first meeting of the new year.

While the rest of the nation is mired in recession, Ashland's economy is doing fairly well, Stromberg said. He pointed to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's record-setting year in 2009 for both attendance and revenues.

People continue to come to Ashland not just because the town has entertainment, but because visitors experience something here that they can't find at home, Stromberg said.

"I believe Ashland is surviving because it is a genuine, archetypal community in a world that has lost touch with what that actually means," he said. "But when people come here, they feel the difference and they respond to it."

Most Americans live in suburbs and big cities. They don't get to experience life in a small, human-scale town that is remarkable for its cultural opportunities and sense of community, Stromberg said.

"We definitely have our foibles — but in a largely unspoken way, we are tending a flame of community and culture that is life-giving and life-affirming. I believe such a community is at the core of creating a sustainable future in all respects," he said.

In the face of global financial upheaval, increasing competition over limited fossil fuels and environmental problems, Stromberg said he believes Ashland is taking advantage of the old economy as long as it lasts, but is also using this time wisely to develop a new community and new culture that is in harmony with the world in which we live.

Ashland may be able to join forces with other towns going through the same process, while also interacting with visitors who want to move their home communities along similar paths, Stromberg said.

As for concrete steps the city of Ashland is taking, he pointed to his and the City Council's action to form a committee of residents to help craft an economic development strategy for the town. The city and the committee will also seek input from the community.

The council recently authorized a water study to look at all potential water sources as well as the appropriate use of water.

Sources could include connecting to Medford's water supply through the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line which now ends in Talent, using Talent Irrigation District water that already reaches Ashland and reusing the city's treated sewage water.

Stromberg said the city plans to create a comprehensive transportation plan that may reduce reliance on the automobile.

The city is working with the U.S. Forest Service and other groups on a Forest Service plan to thin thousands of acres in the Ashland Watershed.

Stromberg said the thinning project could become a laboratory for working with fire in an old growth forest, and therefore attract visiting experts, students, interns and eco-tourists.

Aside from the city government itself, Stromberg said volunteers, community groups, businesses and nonprofit organizations are taking the initiative to make Ashland a more caring, prepared and sustainable town.

Residents responded to water curtailment measures in 2009 by cutting their water use when water levels ran low in Reeder Reservoir. When the rains returned in the fall, Stromberg said many people told him they think Ashlanders should do more to conserve water year-round, not just during a crisis.

He said volunteers are active throughout town. To name just a few, Paul Jeancarlo and John Javna created a program in which residents can buy an extra grocery item when they shop, and then volunteers periodically go through neighborhoods to pick up the food for those less fortunate.

Citizen volunteers who were trained through the city's Community Emergency Response Team program worked to evacuate people when the Siskiyou Fire burned out Ashland outskirts in September.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce are community-oriented, and many businesses voluntarily take part in the city's Green Business Program, Stromberg said.

He said Ashland has a need, an opportunity and a responsibility to be a model sustainable town.

"I think this year, you're really going to see some tangible results," Stromberg said.

The full text of the State of the City address and a streaming video of the speech is on the city's Web site at www.ashland.or.us. Stromberg is inviting people to send comments to stateofthecity@ashland.or.us.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.