After more than 150 years since its founding, the city of Lincoln will finally have a symbol that represents the entire city — not just its higher education institutions or its role as a state capital — but every Lincolnite from the North Bottoms to the SouthPointe Pavilions.
That’s the plan at least. But perhaps, we won’t.
In July, the American Marketing Association Lincoln Chapter and Lincoln Young Professionals Group launched a competition to design a new city flag that will replace the current one, which was initially adopted in 1932.
So yes, the city of Lincoln already has a flag. But it doesn’t have a symbol. Hardly any Lincolnites know what the city flag looks like outside of a few dedicated vexillologists, a term for people who study flags.
But even if a new design is adopted as Lincoln’s official flag, that doesn’t guarantee that it will become an icon that the city adopts as its own. It’s up to the city’s designers and creatives to incorporate the design into the fabric of the city’s culture, both figuratively and literally, and for Lincolnites to accept the change and embrace it.
Designing a city flag is the easy part. Getting a city to adopt and accept it as a representation of itself? That’s where the challenge comes into play.
While the current Lincoln flag is not hysterically hideous like the old flags of Pocatello, Idaho; Provo, Utah; Cedar Rapids, Iowa or the current banner of Brown County, Nebraska, it lacks the notoriety that more simplistic designs in Chicago, Washington D.C. and Denver hold. And out of that lack of notoriety, a flag contest to increase Lincoln’s civic pride was born.
However, when Lincoln’s flag design contest was first announced, the public reaction on Facebook was almost entirely negative.
The paradox of enraged apathy was especially common in the comment sections of news articles, with plenty of commenters calling the project a waste of time and dismissing the redesign as worthless because they didn’t even know there was a current flag.
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? A flag that no one knows exists defeats the purpose of having a flag at all and should be the cause for a new one, not a reason against it.
Facebook commenters were also especially concerned with the cost to the taxpayer, especially when the city has so many other priorities to take care of. Essentially, if a pothole exists in Lincoln, then there is absolutely no reason why anyone should be messing around with frivolities on Adobe Illustrator, right?
Sure, Lincoln isn’t perfect, but the folks trying their hand at graphic design likely aren’t the ones with the ability to go fix everything wrong with the city, especially considering a fair number of contest participants were kids.
Additionally, no taxpayer dollars were used for the design contest, but even if they were, it would barely make a dent in the city’s more than $200 million budget.
Then there’s this comment, which claims the “lib mayor” is taking a page out of the “Communist playbook” where there’s “one party fascist big brother” with the flag redesign contest. That may sound bad, but if the new flag design is able to get liberals, communists and fascists all on the same page, something without precedent in world history, then perhaps the unifying power of a flag is even stronger than I first considered.
But despite the negative online reaction, the contest went on and more than 190 designs were submitted. Among those, four finalists were announced just last week, and soon, a link for official public comment will be available.
While I don’t necessarily love each of the designs, it is important that disdain from the loudest people online doesn’t derail the entire project. Unfortunately, such a derailment isn’t without precedent in similar flag design contests.
Evansville, Indiana, recently had a flag design competition that fell apart because of a lack of support from city officials.
In Manchester, New Hampshire, three new flag designs came up for a vote against their current flag and a majority of the residents decided to keep the old look.
A group in Omaha recently designed a new flag for their city and eschewed the official civic process altogether, instead creating a website with Omaha flag merchandise and raising money for charity. If Lincoln’s flag is not adopted by the city council, perhaps this is a route Lincoln creatives can take with the project.
The new Omaha flag design itself is quite basic, likely too basic for an all-too-picky Facebook crowd, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. In fact, its simplicity is what makes it so easy to incorporate into plenty of merchandise designs from phone cases to cornhole sets and, yes, even a manhole cover as shown on the official Omaha flag website.
Whichever of the four Lincoln flag finalists ultimately prevails, it’s important that the flag becomes an iconic symbol for the city.
At this stage, none of the new designs perfectly represent Lincoln because none of them have any history with the town. But the best way to do that is to begin incorporating the new flag everywhere, not just dozens of feet up on a flagpole in front of city hall or Pinnacle Bank Arena.
In the coming months, I hope to see flag water bottles, flag laptop stickers, flag onesies and maybe even a city flag-themed alternate Husker uniform in Lincoln.
Why? Because nothing brings together liberals, fascists and communists quite like a well-incorporated city flag.
Brian Beach is a junior journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com.