Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One City, One ZIP Code

A modest proposal that does a little number on our numbers

By J.A. Mirisch

Throughout the world, there is likely no combination of five integers as universally recognized as 90210. There is also likely no combination of numbers that so universally signifies a place. I think it is also safe to say that nowhere in the world is there a ZIP or postal code as well known as “90210.”

Indeed, the Beverly Hills ZIP code has become one of the prime identifiers of our “city,” and with some 34,000 residents, I use this term loosely. We’re a small town; OK, we’re a cosmopolitan small town, but we have numerical recognition that not even New York, Tokyo, our neighbor Los Angeles, Berlin, Rome, London or even Buenos Aires can compete with.

Do you know the postal code for the Old Town in Stockholm? How about for St. Mark’s Square in Venice? The Eiffel tower maybe?

No, I thought not.

And while our ZIP code has become so identifiable with Beverly Hills, even being used in official and informal communications as a signifier of our City, a large part of our City uses different ZIP codes.

Full disclosure: I live in the 90211 ZIP code, and while I have no problem with my BH ZIP “with a twist,” it is not by chance that the City, in publicizing the smoking ban enacted last year, chose to use the 90210 ZIP code to make their point. Of course, they could just as easily have written 9O211 or 9O212 (with the O2 part being written as the chemical formula). I’m sure that the City never intended to send 90211 and 90212 residents the message that we are second-class ZIP residents (or, for that matter, that it’s OK to smoke in the South of BH). But you can bet that the City’s PR whizzes didn’t draw lots when it came time to choosing which BH ZIP was going to be used for the campaign.

What is more wacky about the situation is not only that a large part of the City has to make due with the 90211 and 90212 ZIP codes (with 90213 and 90209 being reserved for PO Boxes), there is a large portion of the 90210 ZIP code area that is not even within our City limits.

This, of course, leads to inevitable confusion: the City regularly gets calls from Los Angeles residents who reside within what is known as BHPO, short for “Beverly Hills Post Office,” who seemingly think because their mail is addressed to a “Beverly Hills address,” that they actually live in Beverly Hills and are entitled to City services.

There’s an expression in German, “sich mit fremden Federn schm├╝cken,” or to “adorn oneself with borrowed (actually “alien”) feathers.” It seems that, as magnificent as some of the residences in BHPO are, they are doing just that.

As a small town almost completely surrounded by LA, with a little bit of West Hollywood thrown in, I would hardly say we have a major identity crisis, but 90210, 90211 or 90212, we are all Beverly Hillsians. And it would be nice to end the confusion about what is and isn’t Beverly Hills.

Columnists in this town constantly complain about ours being a divided City – particularly so in the aftermath of contentious development projects which have split the City and in the face of looming development projects which threaten to do so going forward.

While consensus for the sake of consensus can sometimes be a scary and dangerous thing, we should all be able to be unified by the five digit combination with which the world universally recognizes our Community.

And so, my proposal is a simple one: let’s unite the City under one ZIP code, 90210. If the postal service needs the 90211 or 90212 ZIP codes, let them either use them for PO Boxes in BH or even assign them to the current BHPO.

Yes, of course, ZIP codes originated as a way to make it easier for the postal service to deliver the mail. Yes, the decision to revise ZIP codes lies with the US postal service. But since the origin of the current ZIP codes in 1963, the five-digit combinations have come to mean more, much more than useful information for letter carriers, and no more so than in our own little community.

In fact, previously it used to be virtually impossible to get ZIP codes changed, unless it served the postal service’s more narrowly defined goals of logistics and postal delivery. Until the not so distance past there were numerous examples of members of Congress trying to intervene on behalf of constituent communities, each with their various reasons for a ZIP code adjustment, and almost always to no avail.

But that’s now changed. The directive from a “kinder and gentler” USPS is now to “find reasons to say yes, rather than excuses to say no.” And I think our Community could make a convincing case to petition the USPS to correct a situation that literally has divided our City for decades.

Let’s not be united in name only, let’s become united in numbers, as well, and who knows, maybe other ways of bringing the Community together will follow.

In the olden days, people in BH sometimes would talk about “the wrong side of the tracks.” Of course, the “wrong side of the tracks” effectively translated to the 90211 and 90212 ZIP code areas. But those provincial days are gone, as are the potential put-downs like “you’re just so 90211” (though I do wish they would bring back the supercool “Crestview” phone number identification tag).

So let’s just suck it in and ZIP it up and focus on the “one” in 90210, our City, our home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Between Kingsgrove and Narwee

There's a lot more to Beverly Hills, NSW than meets the eye

by J.A. Mirisch

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about Beverly Hills and sister cities, actual and potential. Fairly recently, the subject seems to have taken flight yet again, with the Weekly having quoted the January article in connection with a recent junket of a BH delegation to China. With all the discussion about sister cities -- pardon me, make that "sibling cities" -- and tourism, it seems that, alas, nobody at City Hall has listened to my plea for BH siblinghood with a town that would seem to be a perfect candidate. Maybe that might change if somebody close to City Hall someday has some business interests to be served by partnering with Beverly Hills, Oz.

In any event, I'd like to make my case yet again for a charming spot which I had the pleasure of visiting a couple of months ago. Several of my Aussie friends couldn't quite understand why I wanted to visit the Sydney suburb. When I was in Queensland, earlier in the trip, I chanced upon a resident, who was born in Melbourne and lived in Beverly Hills. No, this wasn't a member of the Bee Gees or some hip Aussie actor like Simon Baker or Shane Jacobson. This was a gal who was born in Melbourne, Florida and lived in Beverly Hills, Australia. As much as she enjoyed living in BH, or Bevo as it's known locally, she assured me that I would be disappointed. Well, I wasn't. In fact, depite the foul weather, I found Beverly Hills, Australia every bit as charming as I had expected -- and the fulfillment of such expectations is a rare occurrence, indeed. I'm happy to share a few photos of the other BH, and while they may not have the glamour of our own cosmopolitan village (but, then again, who does?), they sure have heart. I dare say there are even quite a few things we could learn from our cousins Down Under.

For one thing, they have a working public transportation system. The "subway to the sea" may yet be a distant vision, but our Aussie BH cousins have already long had the East Hills line.

They have ethnically diverse cuisines; there are times when I wish we had our own Beverly Hills kebab.

They have a movie theater which doesn't only play art-house fare.

They have three-bedroom townhouses for under US $300,000.

They have a Beverly Hills Hotel. No Polo Lounge, but Oscar's Restaurant. Not quite as ritzy perhaps as our own pink palace, but a happening place on a Saturday night nonetheless (at least I imagine so, as I wasn't there on a Saturday night).

They don't have a Hilton.

They have a large variety of church denominations. One, in fact, is a "Uniting Church," and goodness knows, we sure could use a little unity when it comes to putting the residents first in our own BH. True, Oz BH doesn't seem to be as diverse when it comes to different kinds of synagogues, but nobody ever said the exchange with BH, 90210 should be a one-way street. Perhaps there can be a "Uniting Synagogue" in the future of both BH's. Goodness knows, 90210, 90211 and 90212 could sure use a bit of uniting when it comes to recognizing and protecting the uniqueness of our own BH.

They have their own fish store, "Beverly Hills Seafood;"BH, CA seafood lovers who remember Phil's with gusto can at this stage only dream of such a luxury.

They already have a plaque in honor of American-Australian friendship, in the true spirit of any sibling city program.

They have the Beverly Hills Girls High School with the bold slogan: "Women Can Do Anything." You go, Sheila! And, better yet, the mottos on the school's crest are also inspiring: "Be somebody." And my favorite: "Spes non fracta."

Spes non fracta. Latin for "Hope is not yet crushed." O tempora o mores! What a wonderful motto for our own Beverly Hills. It seems we indeed have a lot to learn from Bevo, the Aussie Beverly Hills with heart.

Enjoy this photo essay from Beverly Hills, NSW, Australia. If you feel so moved, please join me in encouraging our City Councilmembers to pick a sibling city (well, suburb, actually, as BH, Oz is geographically a part of two cities, Hurstville and Canterbury) that has something more to offer than just commerce or tourist dollars. Write them, email them and tell them that what we need is a sibling city with a true natural connection. A yin to our yang. A snap to our crackle and pop. A Beverly Hills to our Beverly Hills.