Yes, the country needs a fully functioning Postal Service to ensure all mail-in ballots get counted – not to mention continue shipping urgent prescriptions and other packages. But post offices also serve a symbolic role: Though they’ve endured decades of debasement and defunding under the guise of austerity, they’re one of the last public civic institutions in many American cities and towns.

Urban design scholar Patty Heyda explains that many branches were designed to reflect regional quirks or the grand aspirations of local leaders, all while ensuring every American – no matter their class, race, gender or creed – could connect with the rest of the world. The Postal Service represents the best of American public life, which makes its current role as political football that much more tragic, Heyda writes.

Plus, a look back at the Postal Service’s unifying origins.

Also today:

Nick Lehr

Arts + Culture Editor

The J.W. Westcott II is the country’s only floating ZIP code. cactuspinecone/flickr

A dismantled post office destroys more than mail service

Patty Heyda, Washington University in St Louis

Can you find a FedEx store that mimics the design creativity and quality of early US post offices? What are we left with when the best parts of public life are treated like for-profit entities?

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