For most of us, our address consists of a street number that makes it easy to find. But books that are set in England long ago or in rural areas will frequently refer to a house by the name given to it by a past resident, like ‘The Larches’. There did not seem to be any street numbering system and I used to wonder how people unfamiliar with an area found a house other than walking up and down the street looking at the house names or asking any local whom they met.
The lack of the traditional street numbering system is also seen in Japan but there is an alternative system that, while seeming strange to outsiders, has a definite structure that enables one to zero in on the location. Unlike the system in the US where the address starts with the smallest unit such as the name of the person, then proceeds to the house number and then to the street, then the city, then the state, and then the country, in Japan it goes in the reverse order, with the largest unit such as the city coming first and the name coming last. It seems to work well. I hear that Japan has a different way of entering a destination in its GPS system in order to find places, as this video describes.
I started musing on this because of a news report that a nearby small town called Carmel-by-the Sea apparently also does not have a street numbering system and a proposal to introduce one in order to make places easier to find has aroused opposition and created a controversy.
The reluctance is wrapped up in ideals of city character. According to an agenda report for last week’s council meeting, “tradition and preservation of the city’s charm, unique look, and culture have been at the forefront of its governing body and residents’ preference in the past to reject implementing a street addressing system.”
In 1926, City trustees passed an ordinance for house numbering of Carmel-by-the-Sea properties. The ordinance made it unlawful for the owner of any real property in the City to “maintain any house, building, or structure…without posting securely…visible to passerby…a number plate showing in legible figures the number of said premises,” according to staff research. The ordinance was passed by a unanimous vote but the city did not implement or enforce the posting of house numbers. Without any enforcement, the measure was eventually repealed in 1940.
Years later, in 1953, the city even threatened to secede from California when the state considered making it mandatory to have house numbers.
In the modern day, street numbering serves many important functions and residents living there have to find workarounds.
Concerns voiced by community members vary from struggling to provide proof of residence to watching paramedics and fire trucks respond to the wrong house. Without the often expectation of having a street address, residents have expressed difficulties in opening or maintaining financial accounts, securing loans, activating or changing basic utilities like wireless internet, having packages delivered to the correct house or being “findable” in an emergency as a matter of public safety.
Workarounds to the problem, such as asking neighbors to be on the lookout for each other’s packages or offering descriptions akin to “it’s the third house on the left,” have helped patch some confusion. But community members turned out at last week’s council meeting to explain that complications are common and increasingly frustrating.
“We need to move forward into the 21st century with having our actual addresses,” one speaker argued.
Interestingly, the town apparently has no home mail delivery either and people have to go to the post office to get their mail. And some people like it that way.
Staff maintains that the city’s post office has a long local history as being a place where residents regularly visit to not only check their PO boxes but also make idle conversation. Determined to keep the social hub up and running, staff priorities while researching a street address program include protecting Carmel’s post office and refusing to implement at-home mail delivery service. With these goals in mind, staff is in communication with Carmel’s Postmaster to see whether establishing street addresses would compel the United States Postal Service to require mail delivery, regardless of city interests, explained Carmel administrative analyst Emily Gray.
Small town controversies have a charm of their own, even though they can become extremely heated.