Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Street Delivery Designations

For more than a decade, the United States Postal Service has assigned mailing addresses to homes and businesses that are different than the physical location of that home or business. Yup, it adds a whole new meaning to catch-22. I know it’s been that long because I have an editorial from the National League of Cities decrying the practice.

We’re working to get them corrected in Durham. There are tons of reasons for you to have an address that is the same as your physical location and only one for making them different. Our regional post office is in Greensboro, and they seem much more reasonable, but when it was in Raleigh, I was told during a phone conversation years ago that the postal service assigns your address based on where the post office is located that delivers your mail.

So if a post office in one community needs more work to meet its capacity or the postal service anticipates the need for additional facilities, it just goes over into a nearby community (or not so near in some cases) and assigns mail delivery addresses that coincide with the station where your carrier picks up your mail in the morning but totally different than your physical location.

I can see how that benefits the postal service, but why did they make it our problem? With zip codes, it shouldn’t matter if your physical location is Timbuktu and the carrier picks up your mail in Chapel Hill. The address should still coincide with the physical location.

Okay, I’ll calm down. We are making very slow progress in getting corrections. When I first came to Durham, half of the hotels in the City of Durham had been assigned to receive mail as Morrisville, NC, a small town in another county.

I believe the “cons” to this policy vastly outweigh the singular convenience to the postal service. Here are just a few ways this practice is harmful to people and communities:
  • It confuses visitors and newcomers who still predominately use addresses to find physical locations and only logically expect them to be the same.
  • It undermines or dilutes a community's brand or persona, causing economic harm.
  • It confuses people about where their kids go to school, where to pay taxes and where to vote, where to move, how to avoid commutes etc.
  • It even confuses the cable company, which often makes assignments based on the mail delivery designation.
  • It confuses the news media and results in inaccurate datelines. It also confuses the PR person supplying news releases.
  • It confuses the headquarters for many businesses, which end up advertising locations as a city different than the physical location of the store and often publish directories with stores that are located in one community under the heading of another community, thus negating the entire purpose.
  • It confuses companies conducting marketing research or public opinion polling.
  • It confuses Internet mapping services and websites.
  • It confuses Realtors and brokers, home sellers and home buyers.
  • It confuses advertising agencies.
  • It confuses delivery drivers.
  • It makes people feel stupid.
I won’t go on, but I could… forever. My point is there are many ways for the postal service to be efficient and still synchronize mail delivery addresses with actual physical locations. I’m sure by now the people who came up with this practice have retired… so let's grant amnesty (by the way, this practice was never reviewed at any level of government) and get it corrected across the board.

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