Thursday, September 16, 2004

The ZIP Code Dilemma

I don't know if I mentioned this in the blog (and I'm too lazy to search it), but my hometown of Markham, IL got a new ZIP code in July.

Markham's ZIP code was 60426. That ZIP code was shared with Harvey, one of Markham's neighboring suburbs, and other smaller suburbs near Harvey. These suburbs include Robbins and Dixmoor. Unlike Robbins or Dixmoor, Markham (like Harvey) is classified a city. In Illinois, there are rules that govern how municipalities are classified and Markham met the classificiations of a city. According to my parents, Markham had its own ZIP code at one point but decided to consolidate with Harvey's ZIP code for some unknown reason.

So, why does Markham have its own ZIP code again? The City Council and Mayor have been trying for years to get our old ZIP code back. The main reason is due to things such as property values and insurance rates. Harvey is an economically depressed suburb. It's the home of Dixie Square Mall, a mall that closed nearly 30 years ago and has NEVER been torn down. That then-closed mall was the backdrop for the famous car chase in The Blues Brothers. The crime rate in Harvey is higher than it is in Markham. In comparison, Markham is a much better community. Our crime rate is lower, and it seems to be solidly working class. We have a thriving shopping area, Canterbury, that now sports a brand-new Big Lots store. So, it would make sense that Markham would not any of Harvey's "bad vibe" to rub off on it.

Now, we have our own ZIP code, 60428, that is the exact same one we used to have back in the day. Letters with the old ZIP code still come to our home with no problem (in fact, stuff has come to our house with Harvey instead of Markham as the city with no problem) and as far as the U. S. Postal Service is concerned, our new ZIP code is completely legit.

However, the old ZIP code still haunts us. I've noticed that most things that rely on ZIP codes that are not packages or letters do not recognize our ZIP code. Time and time again I put our new ZIP code into web forms for sweepstakes, search boxes to find the nearest store and other things to see nothing come up. My mom told me about how she was asked her ZIP code when she went with my aunt to pick out the new stove and refrigerator. She gave them the new ZIP code and it came up as invalid.

All of this has made me realize just how much we use ZIP codes. It's the main way used by entities (businesses, services, etc.) to determine a place. I've seen forms with just ZIP code boxes and no spots for City or State. But, if we have to keep using the old ZIP code for these purposes, then have we actually gained anything by having our own ZIP code?

Maybe, I'm just a little impatient. The new ZIP code started in July and it's only September. Besides, how many new ZIP codes are created in a given year? Towns don't just pop up in this day and age. But I long will it take before I can proudly put in my ZIP code and not get an error message? No offense to the residents of Harvey, but I don't want my hometown to be permanently joined at the hip to that place. Imagine the outcry if Chicagoans put in their ZIP codes and found out they had put in a New York ZIP code instead to do their business. I bet those Chicagoans would be damn angry.

Hopefully, the various companies that provide information based on ZIP codes can get in gear and get our ZIP code into their databases. It's such a small thing...but it's a lot more important than I ever could imagine.

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