Home > Urban Planning > US Postal Service’s Infrastructure: How can we maintain and expand our public realm?

US Postal Service’s Infrastructure: How can we maintain and expand our public realm?

I don’t want to push post offices and mail services straight out the door yet, but things are not looking good. Even if it is decades before the US post service becomes obsolete or replaced by private carriers, the possibility is definitely in sight and the volume of mail is trending downward. How many Federally-owned, physical operations can you name that exist and impact so many communities so directly? Post offices and distribution centers are, of course, everywhere occupying some of the most centralized urban locations. “With 32,000 post offices throughout the country, USPS has more retail locations than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Walgreens combined…[but] the average foot traffic for a post office is about one tenth of that at Walgreens — a mere 600 weekly customers.” It isn’t too soon to start planning for the reuse of so much high quality space.

This marks a great opportunity to maintain and expand the public realm.  There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of simply beautiful post office facades in this nation, often made with lovingly crafted marble or other fancily carved stones. Many are graced with individualized, artistic finishes to their doors or lighting fixtures, the kind of touch that is unthinkably expensive today. Like firehouses, water stations, or old schoolhouses, post office architecture can often serve as points of town identity. As they slowly spend more and more time closed for business, or even shuttered for good, we should think about rescuing them as public “3rd place” in the same way libraries have become community focal points. Many predicted the demise of the public library in the digital information age, but libraries have reinvented themselves (some drastically so as “urban mediaspace”, a concept I’m fond of) and they have never been more essential to educating, providing support services, and generating social capital.

We could, and probably should, allow many to become little cafes and restaurants, but even better is to reinvent them as grand, new public infrastructure ala the Moynihan Station project has done with the Farley Post Office.

I invite people to please brain storm more ways in which we can save and reuse post office and their support buildings as “3rd places” and provide links to any other examples of what has already been done.

  1. March 3, 2010 at 5:10 am

    Excellent observation. Living in Canada I’d forgotten about all the beautiful and sometimes quaint neighborhood post office buildings in the US. (Canada has long since outsourced postal services to the likes of 7-11).

    It would be wonderful if most of those historic buildings could become community spaces of some variety.

  2. March 6, 2010 at 5:10 am

    More architectural gems worth keeping around. Surely they can be converted for other uses easily enough. Maybe with the “new economy”, we’ll see a return to more Main Street America type of living.

  3. April 26, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I’m late to this show, but … wow, really great idea. I haven’t heard a single person bring this up as a possibility, but you make quite a convincing point.

    So, to throw out an idea or two … I could see them being used as business incubators, converted into office space and leased out at a reasonable rate to start-ups. Or they could simply become “urban mediaspaces”, if the role for these do expand beyond current capacity. I could see some actually being converted into the town hall, particularly in some smaller towns the post office can be one the most prominent buildings in town.

    I just found an example of someone doing this already in Saint Louis.

    I’m also curious to know what’s been done already …

  1. March 24, 2010 at 7:54 pm

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