January 18, 2009
Postal Service has left
us geographically challenged
In a series of radio commercials a local
business touts its new location. After giving the address, the narrator
stridently proclaims that the firm is "still in Wilmington." Search as you
might, you'll not find that address in Wilmington -- because it ain't
there. You can't help but wonder if the firm is still paying city wage
and-or property tax. Her insistent tone prompted a random study of the false directions various businesses are giving
prospective customers. It's downright surprising the number of suburban
roads being extended well beyond their reach -- Concord Pike, Kirkwood
Highway, Governor Printz Boulevard, Foulk Road, to name a few which
never touch the city. And, in the midst of all that confusion, there are
more than a few references to non-existent "North Wilmington" when
meaning Brandywine Hundred and not the part of the city which used to be
known as the Ninth Ward. You never hear of Bryn Mawr, Haverford or
Paoli being confused with West Philadelphia. Wilmington has clearly
defined boundaries and the General Assembly several years ago
them in a veritable iron curtain by virtually eliminating ability
of the state's largest city to annex
territory as the likes of Newark and Middletown have done with abandon
in recent years.
What's disturbing is that this local
geographic illiteracy has become pervasive not just among advertisers --
whose pronouncements most of us have long since learned to discount --
but also among the populace. When called upon to explain themselves,
folks usually say Wilmington is the destination specified on their mail.
Actually, most say WilmingTIN, not WilmingTON, but that's another mater.
The root of the situation at hand is none other than the good old
reliable U.S. Postal Service. Since the advent of wholesale automation
into its operations, the service, unable for obvious reasons to
outsource key components, has settled instead for corrupting the sense
of local identity. Fill out any of those ubiquitous address forms which
come at us from all sides and you'll find yourself confronted by a line
which calls for the identity of your "city" rather than the post office
which serves you despite the fact that nowadays the majority of the
urban population doesn't live in any city. And how often does the
machine-readable 'DE' show up in lieu of the more respectful 'Del.'
abbreviation in applications where there's no need to include a
Geographic illiteracy, indeed? It not
only exists, it's contagious. Ironically, even the U.S. Postal Service
is not immune. Here in the middle of January, we received a Christmas
card which had been returned to our friends who sent it with the
notation that the address was unknown. The address was rendered
perfectly, except for the zip code. We suspect those five digits are all
that's required to properly direct the mail. If the postmaster -- whose
office, incidentally, is not in Wilmington either -- will admit it, we
who advocate truth-in-addressing will prevail.
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