Sunday, 19 July 2015

Salt City Vexillology

posted on 7/19/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

If you are registered to vote in Salt Lake City, and if you haven’t been paying much attention to local politics, you are forgiven for being a little perplexed to find a mysterious piece of mail from the powers that be at City Hall in your mailbox. There’s a chance that it might be a big lucky chunk of unclaimed property, or an exciting notice that you are being sued by somebody (whether those types of mail actually originate at City Hall I am far too lazy to find out), but most likely it is your ballot for Salt Lake City’s 2015 mayoral primary election, which is being conducted entirely by mail.

If you’re looking for advice, I’d say ‘for the love of god, do not read my blog for advice.’ Then, however, I’d say ‘vote for Luke Garrott, City Councilman, Professor of Political Science, and All-Around Stud’ (full disclosure: Dr. Garrott is a friend and former mentor, which you should in no way hold against him). There have already been multiple debates between the five candidates for Mayor of Salt Lake, and you should check them out. I’m not saying that the moderators have been anything less than sharp and well-prepared, but I have noticed one issue that so far has been conspicuously absent from any discussion of the issues facing Salt Lake City. I’m speaking, of course, about the vexillological merits of Salt Lake City’s flag, and whether we need another update to its design. 

Vexillology is the study of the usage, symbolism, and history of flags. A “vexillologist” is defined as either someone who studies flags or just someone who is enthusiastic or knowledgeable about them. You are welcome to pepper your conversation with both terms if you need to up your fancy-pants word ratio, and, by the way, you’re welcome.

To get things started, let’s have a gander at the original flag of Salt Lake City, adopted in the 1960s:

Yikes, that thing is a mess!

Why do I say this? Well, the North American Vexillological Association has a whole report dedicated to helping your flag not suck, but the five essential principles of decent flag design are as follows: 1.) Keep it simple 2.) Use 2 – 3 basic, contrasting colors 3.) Use meaningful symbolism 4.) Avoid seals or lettering and 5.) Be distinctive.

Salt Lake City’s old flag was pretty bad at guiding principles 1, 2, and 4. In 2004, Salt Lake City sponsored a contest to redesign the city flag, and while none of the entries were adopted outright, the new flag (adopted in 2006) was “largely based on” one of the designs. The flag you will now see flapping around over municipal buildings is this fella:

It is a significant improvement, I’ll give it that. It no longer looks like a grade-school diorama project, and it is no longer something that would be busy and incomprehensible even by the standards of good city seal design. But the skyline, the lettering, the font of the lettering (dear sweet Lucifer, the font) – it’s still pretty terrible, in my opinion.

This leads me to believe that someone at the City level took the skeleton of a good design and then added the skyline and lettering. I have no evidence for this idea, but something in my soul says that somewhere out there is an amateur vexillologist whose fantastic design was almost adopted, a sad bastard of a vexillologist who both cries and drinks at night thinking of the design that was eventually actually adopted.

I think that we can do better, and I don’t think we need to wait another thirty years to spruce things up. I mean, we’re better than Provo, for the love of Pete, and Provo’s flag re-design is a study in replacing something that is laugh-out-loud bad with something that is actually pretty cool.

Here is the old flag of Provo:

I don't really need to add anything more to that.

And the spiffy new one (lettering-free, as you’ll note):

So let’s get cracking, various candidates for Mayor of Salt Lake City! Do we really want a flag that’s goofier than the flag of Provo?

I didn’t think so.

(h/t to the podcast 99% Invisible , which first got me interested in amateur vexillology)

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