Mayor Kenney on Rittenhouse wall ban: ‘sit where you want’

Police are enforcing a wall-sitting ban in Rittenhouse Square. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Police are enforcing a wall-sitting ban in Rittenhouse Square. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

UPDATE: Jan. 14, 2017, 9:39 p.m.Mayor Jim Kenney said Saturday night from his personal Twitter account that Rittenhouse Square visitors should “sit where you want,” indicating that the ban on wall-sitting will soon be relaxed after a public backlash. 

Regarding Rittenhouse Square, I’m frustrated too. This government is very large and at times things just get by you. Sit where you want. ✌️

— Jim Kenney (@JimFKenney) January 15, 2017

Kenney Spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said that the mayor acknowledges that some of the concerns about litter, vandalism and smoking were legitimate, yet “he feels this was an overcorrection, so there will be conversations in the coming days about more productive ways to address those concerns.” 

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Still, Hitt said the city encourages park visitors to use park benches instead of the walls to help protect the ballustrades, which officials say are structurally vulnerable. 

“We will look at adding more seating come spring,” Hitt said on Saturday. 

Original story: Woe betide visitors to Rittenhouse Square who find themselves using the park’s low walls as a place to sit and take in the scenery amid the old oak and maple trees that line the beloved park.

Sitting on the park’s walls has officially been banned following complaints lodged by area residents that too many vandals and pot-smokers were using the walls as a site for indecent behavior.

Signs have been mounted across the park imploring visitors to not use the walls as a perch, as so many routinely have for decades. On Friday, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Moroney was enforcing the new rule, sending lunchtime crowd wall-sitters fleeing for nearby benches.

“To keep the park clean because people sit on the walls and throw their trash into the flower beds,” Moroney said of the sitting prohibition. “There’s no actual city ordinance. It’s just a courtesy to not sit on the wall as of right now.”

There is no fine or fee for sitting on the wall, according to city officials.

Still, the crackdown is in response to an upsurge in vandalism on the historic balustrades, which received nearly $1 million in restoration work recently. In addition, the walls were not originally designed to accommodate sitting people, the Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement. It’s a view shared by Friends of Rittenhouse Square, who say the walls are a magnet for crowds of disruptive loiterers.

The decision comes after a commitment by city police to beef up patrols of the park in the wake of an October shooting that made some in the Rittenhouse neighborhood tense.

To others, however, the no-sitting-on-the-wall rule will hurt the quality of life.

“If human beings lounging about, enjoying themselves is disturbing to you, perhaps another planet is in order,” said Brian Shapiro, eating his lunch on one of the park’s benches. Shapiro himself enjoys relaxing on the park’s walls and said a blanket ban on wall-sitting goes too far. “It’s a silly cosmetic solution to a problem that lies elsewhere.”

Bonnie Kapenstein, another frequent park visitor, said she never enjoyed walking through a thick cloud of marijuana smoke that was sometimes present along certain sections of the wall, but turning the walls into a contested public space is unwise, she said.

“In the summer time, there may not be enough benches,” she said. “So what are people going to do? Sit on the ground?”

Other park attendees voiced skepticism.

“I grew up coming here,” said Juan Martinez. “It’s where everyone gathers around. It’s fun to just be around here. It’s just going to push people away, and nobody is going to want to be here,” he said of the wall ban.

For Sal Said, the more park regulation, the better. He thinks the rule change will help preserve the park’s beauty.

“It’s about respecting property. You have to keep it nice for everyone else,” Said said. “People come here to relax, to have a good time. I’d rather keep the nice view.”

In a statement, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said there will always be controversy surrounding how public spaces should be used, citing whether to allow skateboarding in LOVE Park as an example.

“Some said it ruined the park for others, others said it’s what made Love Park Love Park,” Kenney said.

“At the end of the day, I’m just asking folks to be respectful of one another. And that includes the Rittenhouse residents,” Jim Kenney said. “They do need to understand that the park belongs to everyone, and if someone is using the space respectfully and lawfully, that person has just as much of a right to be there as a Rittenhouse resident does.”

But park visitor Shapiro sees something else at work, too.

“It’s the nervous times we live in, right?” Shapiro said. “People are trying to control whatever they can.”

Opponents of the wall-sitting ban have planned a “Sittenhouse” on Tuesday to protest the new rules.

“Eat your lunch, look at your phone, makeout with someone, people watch, or do whatever you do to enjoy wall-sitting!” according to the event’s organizers. “It’s the people’s wall.”

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