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Rats are living large in tony Philly neighborhood

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Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 3:42 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Since Barbara Freedman moved to the exclusive Rittenhouse Square area two years ago, she's increasingly found herself running into an unexpected neighbor at the park: Rats.

Freedman and others who live near the Center City park, or visit it, say they've been sighting the vermin more frequently. City officials acknowledge the problem and say efforts have been taken to curb the square's rat population.

“I think it's horrifying,” Freedman said. She said she frequently spots the critters on the northeast end of the park, near the trash cans and bushes at 18th and Walnut streets.

“I never realized that this would be in my neighborhood,” she said.

Sitting in one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, blocks around the six-acre park contain a wide range of shops and eateries.

An influx of rats at the park was first noticed in late spring. Since then, the city has cleaned the ground under all 60 trash cans at the square. Trash pickup has increased. Garbage cans now have metal liners, after vermin destroyed the existing plastic ones. Bait is being put in burrows more frequently, and officials say the dead rats are being removed and the holes closed quickly.

“I think we're making very significant strides,” said Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner for the Department of Parks and Recreation. He said the city is aware of the rise in rat sightings.

Oddly enough, the success of Rittenhouse could be part of the problem.

Rittenhouse “has historically been more problematic with rats” than other parts of the city, Focht said, in part due to the number of restaurants and Dumpsters — which make it easy for rats to find food — in the area.

Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said measures like regular garbage removal and trash cans with metal liners and tight-fitting lids can help control the pest population. It's also important to educate people to throw away trash instead of littering, she said.

Rittenhouse-area residents say they most commonly see the creatures in the early morning and evening hours, though they're increasingly sighted in daylight.

Jordan David Fennimore, an artist who has lived in Philadelphia for 16 years, says he's seen a marked increase in rodents at the park this summer.

“It kind of worries me,” Fennimore said. “Why is there a rise in rats?”

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