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Ubiñas: Just say 'no' to special treatment for Rittenhouse Square

Helen Ubiñas, Daily News columnist

Updated: Friday, January 13, 2017, 4:50 PM

Some of you are breaking the law right now.

Chill, act cool.

Just sit there.

Oh, you haven’t heard: Philly may have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. But now it’s targeting the scandalous act of sitting.

Idle Philadelphians, you’ve been warned.

This week, the Rittenhouse Square crowd banned sitting on some of the park’s 3-foot walls in an effort to curb pot smoking.

That may sound comically out of touch, but it’s no joke, my friends.

Not to police, the Friends of Rittenhouse Square or the Department of Parks and Recreation, which authorized the new rule and the installation of a no-sitting and no-smoking signs.

Although, they insist the ban goes beyond people sitting on the wall and smoking pot.

From my colleague, Julia Terruso’s story:

"The move was in response to a recent uptick in vandalism on the historic balustrades, which received nearly $1 million in restoration work just a few years ago," the Department of Parks and Recreation said in a statement. "Furthermore, the walls were not originally designed to be used for seating, so this measure will further protect the structural integrity of these iconic park features."

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney scoffed at anyone thinking that he, of all people, would support any heavy-handed move to keep people from smoking pot.

“That would be ridiculous and ineffective,” he said. “I’ve made very clear that I’m not going to allow that behavior to be criminalized. All smoking is illegal in the park, so we ask that people abide by that rule out of consideration for their fellow park goers.”

Look, I’m no fan of second-hand smoke, whatever happens to be in it.

And I can see how having a bunch of people smoking pot in a public park might make it less inviting and attractive to others – especially on the fancy side of town. Because let’s add a dash of reality to this conversation, shall we?

There is plenty of this – and worse - happening at other city parks and you’re not seeing this kind of breathless reaction to nip any of that in the bud.

But fancy or not, this is a public park, and no one group or activity should turn others away.

On that, Kenney and I agree:

“There’s always going to be controversy around how public spaces should be used – skateboarding in LOVE Park is a perfect example,” he said. “Some said it ruined the park for others, others said it’s what made Love Park Love Park. At the end of the day, I’m just asking folks to be respectful of one another. And that includes the Rittenhouse residents. 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.”

So, let’s try to hash this out.

I suppose we can start with more police enforcement. In Terruso’s story, she said police officers acknowledged at a recent community meeting that enforcement of no-smoking rules in the park had lagged. They pledged to crack down on marijuana use.

OK, as long as they remember that penalties for possession and public use for small amounts of pot are a fine and community service. (Also that there are about a million more pressing police issues to deal with in the city every single day.)

We could also add more benches, to maybe lure the problematic pot users to another perch and protect those historic balustrades.

Or, better yet, everybody can just take a seat and just say "No!” to taking the “public” out of public parks.

Yo Philly, your thoughts on a public space feeling a little less public? https://t.co/bsu7TJ7xy3

Helen Ubiñas, Daily News columnist

Read full story: Ubiñas: Just say 'no' to special treatment for Rittenhouse Square

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