Something I didn't expect to learn about from the Columbia episode of WETA’s If You Lived Here: gangs.
No, not that kind of gangs.
Well, this kind, only standing up. This is the only photo I have of our mailboxes. Long story.
In the section of the show that spoke to Columbia’s history, Rouse biographer Josh Olsen referred to these well-known community structures as “gang mailboxes.”
Say what, now? By and large the word gang has a negative connotation in our culture, with the possible exception of the song “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here.” We hear about crime gangs, gang culture, high school gangs, drug gangs. Be honest, if you heard that a neighborhood was well known for its Gang Mailboxes, what would you think? Would you consider that to be a plus?
I think most of us know them by their other name: Cluster Mailboxes.
In 1967, the USPS launched a new experimental program to test centralized mail delivery. The USPS installed the first cluster mailboxes in some areas and took responsibility for maintaining them. - - The Rise of Cluster Mailbox Units in US Neighborhoods, Forsite
Now, I had known that Jim Rouse chose these particular mailboxes with an eye to fostering neighborly contact on a regular basis. I hadn’t known that they were a brand new thing at the time. But it doesn’t surprise me that he was trying things that were new and different. Gang mail boxes were created by the USPS to reduce delivery costs. Leave it to Rouse to see their implementation in an entirely different way.
Truth in advertising: I have never had a conversation with a neighbor while picking up my mail. If I didn’t know better I’d think we were all so shy that we make sure to come for the mail when no one else is there.
I tried looking for any information on why they were called Gang Mailboxes: no dice. If you know, fill me in.
When I wrote of the Columbia episode I mentioned two things I was thinking about:
There was one thing that was included that I wasn’t expecting and which I was delighted to see. And there was one aspect of Columbia that was completely omitted and I can’t figure out why.
The first were the interviews with The 3rd’s Laura Bacon and her mother, which established a connection from the early days of Columbia to the mission of a second generation Columbian in establishing a coworking home base for women of color who are entrepreneurs. That was terrific.
The thing that was completely omitted? Pools. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that there was any mention of Columbia's swimming pools or the significance of Rouse insisting on them in his new racially and ethnically diverse community. When the late Elijah Cummings spoke at the kick off for the Columbia 50th Birthday Celebration he highlighted the inclusion of swimming pools that everyone could use as a pillar of Rouse’s pushback against the generally accept racial exclusion of the day.
Did I miss it? I found it odd that the Columbia Association didn’t insist on making sure that they were known as the “pools, parks, and pathways people.” What could possibly be the downside to that? And - - for conspiracy theorists only - - is this a sign that CA intends to close or sell off the pools?
If you’ve had a chance to watch the episode- - what do you find notable?