Return to Home PageThe President's House

In the News index

Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: August 9, 2004
Byline: Ronnie Polaneczky

Security fanatics, don't fence us in

OPEN LETTER: Whom to contact to express your concern over Independence National Historical Park's latest security plan:

Mayor John Street
Room 215, City Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-686-2181

Gov. Ed Rendell
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
717-787-2500

Sen. Rick Santorum
511 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
202-224-6324

Sen. Arlen Specter
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3802
202-224-4254

Wayne Spilove,
chairman Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
300 North St.
Harrisburg, PA 17120
717-787-3362

Richard Tyler,
historic preservation officer Philadelphia Historical Commission
1515 Arch St.
13th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215-686-7660

Mary Bomar,
superintendent Independence National Historical Park
143 S. 3rd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-597-8787

LAST WEEK, the former director of the National Security Agency said something that Philadelphians desperately need to hear:

"We can spend ourselves into penury building fences around everything in this country" in a futile effort to keep America safe from terrorist attack, William Odom told the House Intelligence Committee.

"The idea that we can put security around everything is too far-fetched to make good sense." It was as if Odom knew, in advance, what was about to go down at our very own Independence National Historical Park.

Last Friday, the Inquirer reported that park management wants to erect an 8-foot-high fence smack across Independence Square — the leafy grounds behind Independence Hall where our forefathers contemplated the founding principle of this country:

Freedom.

You remember the principle, right, which I've written about ad nauseam in columns about the Park Service's crazy security proposals? And you remember that the Park Service has, regardless, tried to initiate some of the most restrictive security methods we've ever seen in the historic area — from shutting down Chestnut Street to digging a tunnel beneath it to rerouting foot traffic across it?

Now, in addition to the fences, the Park Service also hopes to build a combination restroom/security-screening facility on the square and a second screening center adjacent to the Liberty Bell Pavilion.

"The bottom line for me is that I want to get this finished," park superintendent Mary Bomar told the Inquirer, with chilling finality. "It's gone on long enough. We've got to move forward."

Forward? This outlandish plan constitutes a gigantic step backward, to our immediate post-9/11 fears that every major American site was vulnerable to imminent attack. Even though there has been no evidence — then or now — that Independence National Historical Park has ever been a terrorist's target.

Which means that, if this plan is instituted, the park has utterly lost sight of its moral responsibility as managers of this country's most historically significant piece of property.

And if the city of Philadelphia — the owner of the site — allows it to happen, we're no longer worthy stewards of this country's most precious symbols of liberty.

Thankfully, preservationists, historians, residents and civic, business and elected leaders have reacted with loud horror to Bomar's plan.

And with bafflement.

"This just isn't consistent with how the Park Service has educated us about how to regard that space," says a confounded Rebecca Yamin, the archeologist who's working with the park on the current rehab of the square's walkways.

"We're monitoring every hole that's dug. When they reopen trenches, we're standing next to the excavation to make sure nothing else is disturbed. We're documenting everything before and after we touch it.

"Our attitude has been to respect the impact of what we're doing on the space, because the Park Service has presented the square to us as sacred ground," Yamin says. "We're very much in agreement with them about that."

It is indeed sacred. And protected: The 1737 state statute that established the square demanded that it "remain a public open green and walks forever."

New buildings and fences sure don't jibe with that intent.

"That's why this is such a shock," says Yamin.

What's not a shock, unfortunately, is how the Park Service has persisted in its belief that restricting access to the historic area will make us all protected, happy campers.

But, like every other over-the-top security measure the park has proposed since 9/11, this one will do little more than give us the illusion of protection.

Car bombers can still drive right alongside the historic buildings.

Unsecured rooftops of surrounding high-rises offer any sicko with a shoulder-launched missile easy access to the park. (Last spring, I actually made it onto the rooftops of several buildings I attempted to enter).

And any agile suicide bomber can still leap the bollards around the park, with ease.

So we have to ask ourselves — again and again, apparently — what are we gaining for the cost of this plan to visitors, to the historic integrity of the area, to the meaning of our symbols of freedom and to the pocketbooks of taxpayers, since this plan will cost millions to install?

Especially when a perfectly appropriate, low-cost security-screening proposal — which involves low-impact use of existing buildings on either side of Independence Hall — already exists?

A whole lot of nothing, that's what.

That's why I am begging you to get involved. It's time for anyone who is alarmed about the Park Service's security policy of sustained hysteria (to borrow a wonderful term coined by William Odom) to get off the fence — pun intended — about the park's plan.

Please call or write the legislators and policy influencers I have listed here.

Tell the mayor and governor that it's high time the Park Service learned the meaning of appropriate and reasonable security, based on fact, not fear.

Tell the senators not to vote for appropriations to pay for the new plan. Tell the historical commissioners to have the guts not to endorse it.

And tell the Park Service that we — the proud stewards of our historic area — will never stand for the flimsy illusion of safety over the real loss of freedom.

 

Return to Start Page | In the News index

historic documents, declaration, constitution, more