The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding

The Practice of Letter Writing



One of my goals this summer was to write letters to friends and family in other cities. The practice of letter writing isn’t a new thing for me, but I wanted to put it on my list of goals to make sure that it was emphasized, and I want to emphasize it here as well. I think the methods that we use to communicate between cities, throughout neighborhoods, across nations affect our connectedness to others. I love the simplicity of texting and the ease of email as much as you do, but there’s something different about penning a letter and walking it down to the postal box.

Currently, the US Postal Service is in hot water, budget-wise, and has been for some time. Realistically, I don’t think it will last into the next decade given the current economic climate in the US and the Postal Service’s declining consumer base. (Although a Forbes article estimates that “over 30% of FedEx Ground shipments were actually delivered by the Postal Service,” so maybe we need it more than we think.) These days, the USPS caters largely to the elderly and people in remote regions whose local post offices haven’t already had their business snatched up by a UPS or FedEx.  Yes, I know that plenty of old people are capable of Skyping and Facebooking their grandkids every week. However, for many others—particularly those in rural areas that don’t yet have high-speed internet—the post is still an ideal method for communication. My own 92-year-old grandmother has never used a computer in her life, but she’s been sending birthday and holiday cards through the USPS to her various family members for the last fifty years, always timing them to arrive perfectly on the day in question. Some years, hers is the only card on my desk.

Letter writing may be something that has been particularly lost on those of us who live in cities where the pace of life is quicker and the sense of connectedness is more palpable. For my generation, it’s weird to think about mailing a card to someone in another city when you’ll probably speak with them before the card arrives, and I love that it’s so easy to be in touch with the people I care about, scattered across the country. Nonetheless, I keep buying stamps and slipping letters into postal boxes. Part of the novelty comes from knowing that I’m sending the only letter my friends will receive in weeks. Even more so, I take joy in setting aside a small piece of time to think something through before I say it. Letters are a chance to articulate the more complex ideas you’ve been mulling over, fold them inside envelopes and offer them to another person for consideration. Letters are tangible, lasting objects where sentiments remain captured for as long as your recipient keeps them. The joy comes back to you too, because most people who receive a letter (eventually) write one in return. Give it a shot?


3 thoughts on “The Practice of Letter Writing


    In case you haven’t read it, it’s all kinds of superb.

    Great post, to which I totally agree. Alas, I am, as you know, a terrible pen pal. :/


  2. Pingback: Summer City Goals—Revisited | The City Space

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