We live in an era in which technology takes us all by storm; every aspect of modern-day life is swamped with modern applications. We rush to keep pace with the overwhelming onslaught of modern technology, fearful of missing out on instruments of modernity. The notorious generation gap persists: Older generations hold on to the tools they have always been accustomed to, while new generations hail modernity and swiftly adapt by replacing outdated tools and features with more modern, timely ones.
But can new technology really substitute systems that have been in place for long decades? In this editorial, I tackle a fundamental system which I imagine could never be foregone: the system of postal addresses. I speak of the urban practice of dividing areas into districts; giving names to streets, squares and major landmarks; and allotting numbers to buildings. This transpires into what is known as the “correspondence address” which is tantamount to the birth certificate or national ID of a place. It is a process carried out by local administration and planning apparatuses as well as the postal authority. The result is that every individual, activity or entity gets an address that is used to reach them or correspond with them.
We grew up with this fact that became part and parcel of the definition of places and was indispensable for travel or movement, and to the use of public and private transport. Addresses were also key for the use of services such as post, telegram and telegraph, including official correspondence in all aspects of business activity. In this context, it must be understood that the “national ID” of a building is its address, and it figures on the ID card of the individual who lives there. Postal addresses are used in all official documents, and in all official data relating to any economic, commercial, social or service activity an individual engages in. What would happen if this system is shattered, wiping out all its features and details?
I write with “new urban communities” in mind. “New urban communities” is a term that joined our vocabulary some three decades ago, alluding to new urban settlements or developments and satellite towns. The new urban communities were placed under the charge of the Ministry of Housing.
New urban communities did not spring up unplanned, but were the outcome of solid, advanced planning. In line with planning considerations, they were divided into zones of residence, industry, services, or the various activities they housed. The design of these new settlements varied between open and closed planning. The open planning scheme features main streets that branch into road networks of large to smaller streets, with housing units lining both sides of the streets. The closed or private scheme features private gated compounds.
Amid this huge urban evolution, Egypt’s postal authority appears to be missing. Many of the units of new urban communities lack proper postal addresses, and in some areas there is no postal service in the first place. If you ask residents of these settlements for their addresses, they only give you the name of the compound where they live and the number of the unit, explaining that the streets have no names. If you need to reach a destination, you could either ask the private security guards of the compounds, who usually know the residents by name; or you could be guided by nearby landmarks such as shopping malls or schools; or you might follow the numbering on the units until you reach your desired destination, which could be a bitterly difficult task if the streets do not follow straight line, perpendicular paths. But what about any official correspondence or subscriptions that may be sent through the post? Residents claim they may never reach them, so they rely for correspondence on old addresses of homes they lived in before they moved to the new urban settlements, or on POBoxes in reachable post offices. The question that begs an answer is: what about the issuance of official papers such national IDs, driving or car licenses, business registers or professional licenses that are linked to a residential address or business address within these communities?
If anyone wonders how residents of these communities and their visitors reach their destinations, or how they receive various kinds of services, the answer is quite simple: through modern technology. They resort to GPS, the modern application that is no longer new but is just a fingertip touch away on smart phones and in modern cars. Accordingly, real day-to-day life runs smoothly and accurately thanks to modern technology, even if official life still awaits the postal authority. Let me again remind you, I speak of modern, new urban communities, not of unplanned slums!
5 February 2021