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Japanese Garden misconceptions

I am writing in response to Susanne Severeid’s letter objecting to the proposed new, authentic Japanese Garden that appeared in the Ashland Daily Tidings on Feb. 1.

She makes the assertion that the donor, Jeff Mangin, simply waltzed into the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission) office and waved some kind of magic wand and was given carte blanche to create the new Japanese Garden to his own liking. She then states that “This donor even found the Portland designer himself.” She is wrong on both assumptions.

The following folks were involved in the in the search for the garden designer: members of both the APRC and the Ashland Parks Foundation; Noriko Hansen of the Japanese Association of Southern Oregon; Michael Black, APRC directo; and donor Jeff Mangin.

Severeid then asks, “Was there a public demand for such a make-over?” Not initially, perhaps, but as citizens realized that this was the biggest donation in the park’s history and warmed to the idea of a clean-sheet, new, authentic Japanese Garden that could be a stand-alone tourist destination in its own right, that changed.

Great ideas don’t always pop out of the collective mind. If the criteria for all cultural, artistic, and technological progress was that it needs to come out of public opinion, then we might well still be living in caves and drawing bison on the walls. When visionary architect Frank Gehry built the mastodontic, titanium-clad Bilbao Guggenheim Art Museum, there was controversy, but people eventually “got it” and the museum transformed the cultural and economic landscape of the long-forgotten, poor, Basque country of northern Spain. It is now one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. Ditto Steve Jobs and his iPhone. Fortunately, Oregon is still a place for dreamers, visionaries, and doers, and the new Japanese Garden is emblematic of the forward-thinking, creative impulse in our state and city.

Severeid’s next point is that “disturbing statements are emerging of having to charge admittance for future upkeep of this new ‘authentic’ garden.” Statements emerging from where and by whom? Again, she is incorrect, for had she read the Mail Tribune article on Jan. 29, it was explained that Mangin had offered to set up an annuity of $60,000 paid to the APRC each year to cover the cost of maintaining the new garden and eliminating any need to ever charge an admittance fee.

Severeid then declares: “The person to hold accountable for this fiasco is Michael Black, Director of APRC.” I believe she is still smarting over Black and the parks commissioners who implemented major changes at the Senior Center a couple years back that were not to her liking. She was a proponent of the failed election to recall three commissioners who voted for the changes. The recall election in March 2018 was a catastrophic failure, with over 70 percent of voters rejecting the recall and hence upholding the commissioners and their decisions on the Senior Center. Please do not conflate the Senior Center and the new Japanese Garden. It is neither appropriate nor fair, and is a disservice to Michael Black, the APRC and the rest of us citizens.

One positive point that gets lost in the tumult are the cultural and educational opportunities that the new garden could create. Perhaps we could embrace a new sister city in Japan that also has an authentic Japanese Garden. I envision cultural exchanges with our students going to Japan to learn about Japanese culture and traditional gardening, etc. A two-way reciprocal flow between the U.S. and Japan, enemies turned steadfast allies over the past 70y years, could be the new reality. The new garden could become a stand-alone tourist destination that would help Ashland by diversifying and increasing our tourism revenue.

Doug Munro lives in Ashland.