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Townies, Zippies and Politics


April 12, 2012 by Steve Winkler

Centuries ago, a person’s identity was tied to the land on which they lived. The undifferentiated peasants of the medieval fiefdom system were known by their place, their location in the realm. Things haven’t changed much in 500 years. We still link our identity to geography. But now that link, rather than being determined by the lord of the manner is determined by the U.S. Postal Service in the form of a five-digit number known as the zip code.

The zip code was the postal services’ answer to a “mail explosion” in the 1960s. They presented the code as “five trailblazing numbers that would launch every piece of mail with space age speed and precision.”

It didn’t take long for marketers to capitalize on the “birds of a feather” adage and use zip codes as a tool for targeting their sales pitch to an identifiable demographic imbedded in zip codes. People with similar traits tend to cluster. There were reflections of characteristics of middle class, upper class, urban, rural, educated and what ever group the marketer was perusing. A person’s zip code could reveal which magazines they might read, their favorite toothpaste or TV shows and an array of clues about their likely tendency to buy a particular product. Zip codes also became associated with cultural, social and political identities.

The geographic area of the zip code constitutes another layer of administrative boundaries. The political jurisdictions we associate with police and fire, judicial system, urban planning/zoning and sanitation often overlap but they can all be included in a single zip code area.

In south Washington County, the zip codes are named for the town that oversees mail delivery with that zip code. The zip isn’t exclusive to an incorporated town but encompasses the countryside as well. Those folks who live “out in the county” are identified by the town post office.

So, how do we talk about West Forkers (or West Forkians if you prefer) and distinguish between those who live in town and ones who live out of town? Simple, there are two types of identities for 72774; Townies and Zippies.

Townies live inside the city limits, Zippies don’t.

The population of 72774 is 5,586. Of that number 2,337 are Townies and 3,240 are Zippies. Numbers mean voters. Now we’re talking politics.

Take West Fork for example. If your residence and mailing address says “West Fork, AR, 72774,” you are coupling your identity with a place. And, if you don’t live in the city limits you have no voice in the political life of West Fork — you’re just along for the ride. You can’t vote. If you live in the “Planning Area” you may still have to deal the city regarding what you can do with your properly. (More on this later).

Many of the town’s business owners, managers and professionals are, in fact,  Zippies. They make a vital contribution to the life of the city but have no opportunity to serve in an official capacity in city government. The policies that flow from city hall regarding appearance, for example, are going to impact what visitors see when they visit the place you call home. The reputation that grows from the public image of West Fork is greatly influenced by how the rest of the world sees the town.

So, those 3,240 West Fork Zippies would be wise to pay attention to the upcoming municipal elections even though they won’t be voting for a councilmember. Zippies have influence. Use it.

Steve Winkler

Steve Winkler is the publisher and editor of the Observer. Email him at

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  1. Bob says:

    Even if you live outside the city and can not vote you do still have a strong voice in what happens here come to the city meetings talk with the person who will list. I am going to run for ward #4 check out my web site. You do have a voice do not let someone say diff.

  2. Larry Oelrich says:

    Steve, the issue of zips and city limites are even more convoluted than just inside/outside City Limits. In Prairie Grove and Farmington for example, a good portion of Prairie Grove is in the Farmington zip code area. People’s mail addresses say Farmington, when in reality they live in Prairie Grove. A portion of Farmington has a similiar situation being in Prairie Grove’s zip code area. This issue causs major problems for the cities, especially in capturing sales tax, because when something is sold the seller often thinks they are in the city listed on the mailing address when in reality its another city providing the services that rely on that tax revenue. The USPS is not sympathetic to this problem and they have stated, zip codes were not intended to assist city’s with tax collection, only to get the mail where its going. The perception they create however, is to falsely identify where an address actually exists.

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