Why do we still have "postal cities" different from real jurisdictions?

As soon as the Zip Code system was implemented, the “CITY, STATE” portion of our postal addresses became obsolete. So why do we still have “postal cities” that differ from the actual jurisdictional borders in which we live? Wouldn’t it save us a lot of time and trouble just to get rid of these pretend places and state exactly where we live according to legal boundaries?

I doubt it. The idea behind the ZIP code (at least the way I heard it) was to make delivering mail more efficient. Apparently, the actual municipal jurisdictions didn’t suffice for that. As an example, I used to live in Arlington County in Virginia. That county does not have any cities; however, it does have more than one postal (ZIP Code) district.

No, the problem lies in how political subdivisions are created.

For example, my own mailing address is a town (read “village” in the Northeast). It’s the closest urbanization to me, has the post office where we buy stamps, mail packages, etc. It’s located in the next county over, owing to how close we live to the county line.

My own physical location is in a crossroads hamlet without a post office, in the rural area of a county slowly being urbanized by an expanding metropolitan area. We have no local government at below county level; we are geographically assigned to a “township” but it’s purely for land-title purposes, not governmental.

In some areas, there is no “real jurisdiction” in the sense you imply. Certainly it might be useful if the incorporated suburb of North Acres were a separate postal city from Metropolis City – but there are many places in the U.S. that are not incorporated municipal locations.

And, by the way, what is a “pretend place” in this context? If Mrs. Brown runs Brown’s General Store at Picketts Corners, an unincorporated hamlet, and has the post office adjacent to her store, how is a Picketts Corners mailing address “pretend” – it’s a known place, albeit not a governmental entity. Would it be better to have the address be the Town of Fillmore, which probably people not 30 miles away have no clue is the township name for that area? And what if the county is not subdivided into named townships? What happens when a given urbanizing area annexes newly developed land?

And, cities, towns and communities are constanly changing, so the PO doesn’t want to have to change your mail every time some city expands or a community incorporates.

You doubt what?

Yes, superceding the earlier system of creating “postal cities” in order to make delivering mail more efficient.

And how does this contradict my point. Why not just give your postal address as “Arlington County, Virginia 22201-0015” or whatever it is? Why do we need a pretend “city” called “Arlington, Virginia” now that the Zip Code tells you exactly where the mail goes?

Postal worker checking in…

1. You could well ask, “Why do we have postal boundaries when there are municipal ones?” as ask the other way around. In my part of the world, as an example, I live in a certain postcode, a suburb, a local government area, a state government area, a federal government area, etc. These things are designed for the convenience of different bodies, and there is no pressing reason to combine them, as the needs are different.

Given that up to 10% of adressed mail has errors in the addressing, the different systems are actually useful as they provide a cross-check for the OCR sorting equipment to use when there is ambiguity in the address. In theory a zip code would suffice, but in practice the cross-checking is useful. You need the town and state as well as the code for things to function smoothly.

I doubt that using the actual names of the cities and towns would save us time and trouble.

I’ll concede that I wasn’t thinking of this situation. What actually bugs me is when a postal city and a legal jurisdiction share a name but not boundaries. For example, the postal city of “Falls Church, Virginia” is about three or four times the size of the actual City of Falls Church. Why not give that area a name that has some relationship to the legal boundaries, such as “Eastern Fairfax County”?

It is also an issue of local pride. The tiny hamlet in which I grew up lost it’s identity when the post office closed, having been absorbed into the larger township. This humble burg sat on a crossroads and incorporated an area from two adjoining townships. It was only when researching the roots of the little place that I became aware of it’s historical significance, and it’s place in the Revolutionary War.

When all you have is a fire company and a shuttered gin mill bearing the town name, it’s time for action. A letter documenting everything about the place was sent to the Postmaster General, and several months later, our name was added as an alternate name to the area zip code. No, it’s not a political subdivision, but to many of the folks who live there, it’s important.

Ahh … . Okay, color me informed.

Why is this a problem, other than bugging you? Seems to me the issue is with you, not the system, which does a pretty good job of doing what it’s supposed to do.

Anyway, you can in most cases put whatever town name you want on the envelope, as long as the ZIP code and everything else is correct. Certainly there are two different town names that I regularly interchange on my address, and I’ve seen addresses like “123 RealStreetname St, Funnyfaketownnameville, MA 01002” get correctly delivered.

Of course, as TheLoadedDog pointed out, if everything else isn’t correct, then having a town that PO recognizes makes it much more likely that they’ll figure out where the envelope is supposed to go.

In my county we have 92 incorporated muncipalities as well as unicorporated areas. Let’s start with the given that many of them are too small for their own 5-digit zip code.

My zip code covers three different towns. There are other places around here where a town straddles more than one zip code. I can’t believe that getting rid of the zip codes would make anything more efficient – particularly since around here we have towns named Oakland and Oakville, Maryland Heights and Richmond Heights, Bel-Ridge and Bel-Nor, and St. Ann and St. Johns.

And most people just refer to the entire area as St. Louis.

Has someone suggested getting rid of Zip Codes? My position was based on the existence of Zip Codes.

I’m moving next month. According to the U.S. Post Office I will be living in Alexandria. Virginia, however, tells me I’ll be living in Fairfax County. Alexandria isn’t even in Fairfax.

Because “Fairfax County” and “Falls Church” are the names of political/administrative subdivisions created by the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia, but the name “Falls Curch” is ALSO the name of a a local service center and delivery area ( that happens to include the places known locally as “Falls Church” and “Eastern Fairfax County”) established by the United States Postal Service, an independent corporation owned by the Federal Government, who organizes administratively in the way that best works for them, rather than for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

All this is just a restatement of my original OP, isn’t it? Just with a different view of the situation. The question is was asking is – why does the Postal Service still need to define postal locations, now that we have Zip Codes?

For redundancy check, as someone pointed out above.

Was that zip code number, in the old lady’s shaky handwriting, 21591 or 27597? Or perhaps 27591 or 21597? If it’s tagged with the “city” name (which is really a post office name, generally matching the city’s name), it’s easy to check. Without it, that item of mail wanders across a couple of states, trying to figure out if Mr. & Mrs. Hubert Farnsworth live at 11318 Hickenlooper Lane in that town or in one of the other three.

Typically, people who live in a subdivision or on the main road a mile or so out of Elmville, state where they live as “Elmville” – even though that’s not the case. If someone from the board wants to know where I live, the answer is “outside Raleigh” – even though I’m 20 miles from the nearest city limit and not even in the same county. But Raleigh is big enough to be known to someone from Vancouver or Sydney or Billings, while the hamlet I live in and the town that is namesake to my mailing address, phone exchange, and favorite grocery, are not.

A post office is located in a town, and named after that town. That post office serves that town and usually an area of land serviced by rural routes emanating from that post office. Sometimes that area of land is rather large; Camden, New York 13316 post office services addresses in parts of three counties, seven towns, and two villages.

Post office areas are set up mostly for the convenience of the post office operations: what array of nomenclature, people, and equipment, most easily gets mail to the house at a point on U.S. 15 seven miles south of Warrenton, VA? If it’s a rural route out of the Warrenton PO, then it gets tagged with a Warrenton address. If not, something else is used.

The post office will tell you the zip code is a cross check. On my PO box I can simply write the 9 digit box number with nothing else and it gets delivered. I tried this and it works.

Because my box is user specific.

Also remember towns are more than just homes. For instance I know of a small town in Maryland that is the home to over 15 corporate business parks. This is a LOT of additional addresses. But the town itself would be lucky to have 2,000 people. For instance the Sears Tower has its own 5 digit zip code.

So geographical space is always not an issue. A bedroom suburb may not even need a seperate post office.

I would argue with that. This is a bit different form the OP but a borough here in PA had some issues because of the false labeling. Ambler’s post office delivers to that town and four neighboring townships. Well when folks filled out their tax forms at work, they put down Ambler as their taxing municipality when they actually lived somewhere else.

For several years Ambler recieved wage taxes that should have been sent to other areas. Once those townships figured it out, they sent a fat bill to Ambler asking for their tax money back. It ended up costing the taxpayers there since their borough had been spending money that it should never have received in the first place.

And its one extra thing to think about when you buy a house. If you look up Glenside, PA which doesn’t actually exist, you are actually in Abington, Upper Dublin, or Cheltenham. The tax implications can be immense between the three.

Personally I think its a pain in the ass. But at this point it would be more of a pain in the ass for the post office to change it.