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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: August 11, 2004
Byline: Harris Steinberg, director of the Penn Praxis program at the University of Pennsylvania

Commentary: Don't fence in our heritage!

Square deal unfair to visitors

What a special privilege it is for Philadelphia visitors to stand on the tree-shaded square behind Independence Hall, where, two centuries ago, first were heard the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence.

In that spirit, today's keepers of liberty's flame — the green-clad folks at the National Park Service — could well call upon the Declaration's text as they welcome tourists.

"'When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to' use the restrooms, please remember: The gents' is on the right, the ladies' on the left of the airport-style security shack."

Talk about enjoying the fruits of freedom: No more toileting hardships at Independence National Historical Park, with double the potties for people waiting to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

And shorter lines at the metal detectors and baggage-screening machines: Rather than just one screening point on Independence Mall, there would be two — with a second one built almost on the site of the Declaration's July 1776 reading.

Of course, that's the only positive spin possible for the latest Park Service security plan. The proposal would erect a hideously inappropriate toilet/screening combo facility behind the old hall. Completing the desecration of Independence Square would be a tall fence permanently slicing the square in two.

As public scorn was being heaped on the idea late last week, it wasn't surprising to hear Independence Park superintendent Mary A. Bomar describe it as only one of "a wide range of options" being considered.

In fact, it's not the worst of the heavy-handed approaches to historic-area security. That dubious distinction goes to an idea that still intrigues high-level federal officials: closing the 500 block of Chestnut Street and circling the bell and Independence Hall with fences.

But in the same way, the Independence Square proposal is an affront to the democratic ideals celebrated at Independence Hall.

Neither Mayor Street nor Gov. Rendell should permit this plan to become reality.

They should insist, instead, that the Park Service adopt the visitor-friendly security proposal from area business and civic leaders. That plan sensibly puts metal detectors within Independence Hall and the bell pavilion — and all but frees the shrines of liberty from fencing.

 

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