7.12.11

The hidden benefits of the US Postal Service

[The post office in St Paul's St Anthony Park neighborhood.]
Recent discussions about reducing the US Postal Service have mainly taken place around issues of cost and delivery. For example, officials are discussing reducing service delivery to cut costs.

What's missing from the conversation, though, are people thinking about the role the US postal service, post offices, and letter carriers have in their neighborhoods. Many smaller post offices are true neighborhood hubs, serving as central spots in smaller commercial nodes. They are places where people can go to get passports made, to collect tax forms, or to mail packages. These smaller offices do a great deal to create neighborhood identity and to serve to increase walkability in their neighborhoods.

A great example of this is the post office in St Paul's St Anthony Park neighborhood. Despite being one of the ugliest most utilitarian post office designs in my living memory, this little office fits in really well with the surrounding building stock, and symbolically serves as the heart of the small commercial node in this area surrounding it.

In small towns, too, post offices are very important meeting places.

This is not to mention the fact that letter carriers are important links in their neighborhoods. Delivering mail every day, letter carriers are wonderful "eyes on the street", walking down every sidewalk in every city in America on a daily basis.

While we discuss the future of the US postal service, it's important to keep in mind how they function to create walkable, urban spaces in communities everywhere. Any discussion of the benefits of the US postal system that relies only on a spartan cost-benefit analysis is likely missing out on all the intangible benefits of the network of buildings and offices that provide a meaningful connection between the federal government, your local sidewalk, and your mailbox.

[Seeing the post office is comforting, like your favorite blanket.]

3 comments:

Matt said...

Hey Bill, how do you make those photo collages?

Bill Lindeke said...

just take a bunch of photos from the same POV, then put them together in photoshop (the 'transform' feature is useful here)

Reuben Collins said...

A related note:
one of the most likely methods the Post Office will use is to shift away from doorstep delivery, and move people to PO Boxes or consolidated blocks (don't know the proper name for them). This is already standard practice in new subdivisions in many places. A locker full of mailboxes are spread throughout the neighborhood (maybe one per block) and everyone has to go there to pick up the mail.

The downside is that I don't get mail delivered to my door anymore. The upside is that I've got to stop at the end of my block once every day. Many people will make this trip on foot, and it has the potential to be a sort of neighborhood focal point where you might bump into your neighbors.