by Jake Fenner SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – As Syracuse and the rest of Central New York looks to rebrand itself, one thing that seems to be missing is a city symbol.
But what you may not know is that the city has a symbol in its flag. While it is a rare sight, it can often be found in public places such as Clinton Square and outside City Hall. The flag features two bars of light blue on the top and bottom, with a white field running through the middle, and the seal of the city dead center. While this may be the first time people are hearing about it, experts in flag design know Syracuse’s flag as another boring example of why city flags are the worst.
In a 2015 TED Talk, Roman Mars, the host of the radio show 99% Invisible discussed why city flags are often some of the worst designed objects in cities. In his in-depth discussion, titled “Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed,” he found it was often due to cities inability to follow guidelines and suggestions from flag experts at the North American Vexillological Association or NAVA. For those wondering, vexillology is the study of flag design.
One common offender in the eyes of NAVA are the city flags they call “seals on a bedsheet,” which they refer to as a flag with the city seal slapped on it and a few colors behind them. According to NAVA’s “Five Basic Principles of Flag Design, ” number four is, “No lettering or seals of any kind.”
“You can’t read that at a distance,” says Ted Kaye the author of “Good Flag, Bad Flag” and the Secretary of NAVA.
NAVA publishes rankings of the best city flags of the United States. The most recent came in 2004, and Syracuse was omitted. However, other New York cities like Buffalo (32), Albany (34), New York City (37), Rochester (53) and Yonkers (127) made the list.
But, that did not save Syracuse from criticism. In Mars’ presentation, he highlighted examples of “seals on a bedsheet,” and Syracuse’s flag was at the center.
After watching this video, members of the Syracuse community were inspired to change the city’s flag. Common Councilor Michael Greene has spearheaded the campaign along with help from Adapt CNY.
“There’s nothing interesting about it,” said Greene.
One of the reasons why people are unaware of the city flag is because of the very seal in the middle. While most city flags are publicly owned, the seal is copyrighted and owned by the City of Syracuse. This means that no one can reproduce the seal, and therefore the flag, without consent from the city. As a result, there are few places it can be seen and people cannot fly the flag outside of their homes. This is one of the many reasons Greene cites for needing to change the flag.
“(A flag) can be a way to express civic pride,” Greene says, “and the fact that we don’t have a way to do that is an opportunity we’re missing out on.”
The process is expected to be long, with Greene suggesting it may take years, but there will be a series of steps to pass before a flag is chosen. After receiving submissions, a panel of citizens will review the designs and choose the few they like the best. Then, it will be put to a public vote in order for the next design to be officially adopted.
So, do you think you have what it takes? In addition to the list of NAVA guidelines, Kaye suggested drawing your flag on a 1 inch x 1.5 inch rectangle on a piece of paper.
“A 3×5 foot flag on a pole 100 feet away looks about the same size as a 1×1.5 inch rectangle seen about 15 inches from your eye,” he said. “You’d be surprised by how compelling and simple your design can be when you hold yourself to that limitation.”
Adapt CNY has not begun collecting designs yet, but despite the lengthy process, both they and Greene believe the outcomes will be helpful to the community.
“I think it would be an important thing,” Greene said, “It’s not the most important thing, but it would be a nice change.”