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Opinion: Nixa makes right moves in flag design contest

Eyes & Ears

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Nixa is on the right track – at least when it comes to the city flag. I am glad to hear city officials recognize their flag could be improved.

Some cities resist that notion. Joplin is one of them, and we will come back to that.

In Nixa, leaders have taken the initiative to roll out a communitywide flag redesign contest. In doing so, the city joins an increasing number of municipalities nationwide – now approaching 90 – at various stages of updating or creating a city flag.

Nixa’s competition also includes the city seal and Police patch, a good move if you like to strike while the iron’s hot. Plus, it could provide consistency in the imagery and messaging.

I’ve written about city flags more in the last two years than I ever expected. I blame it on a Ted Talk by Roman Mars that got me inspired. And, of course, Springfield is going through it’s own somewhat awkward phase of flag maturity. You’ve probably seen the Springfield Identity Project’s proposal in sky blue with an eight-pointed star topped with a crown symbolizing the Queen City of the Ozarks. If you’re not familiar, check it out at SGFFlag.org. The proposal has yet to gain traction within City Hall.

According to the Portland Flag Association, a self-described group of vexillologists and flag enthusiasts, flag contests in Columbia, South Carolina and Rochester, Minnesota, also have kicked into gear this summer. Yes, vexillology is a real thing – the study of flags. The group counts 87 cities in some manner of flag redesign.

More good stuff from Nixa is its generous $1,000 award for the selected winner. The Springfield bedroom community seems to be following the flag redesign best practices I recently wrote about after getting the skinny from international vexillologist Ted Kaye of the Portland Flag Association.

This idea of soliciting design work creates some interesting scenarios. It makes sense on the surface. Want a good design? Go to the experts.

But it’s something that should be traversed cautiously. Designers possess a valuable skill set, and you don’t want to take advantage of that. I think the Springfield Identity Project learned a little bit about that when soliciting ideas from the Springfield Creatives group netted a smaller than expected return. Organizers say none of those initial design pitches was picked.

The prevailing thought for designers seems to be why invest my time and energy pro bono, when I could be earning additional income working on something else. That is valid. An answer might be civic pride.

But also a reality in the process of designing a flag is almost anyone can do it. Just follow the best practices.

It seems flag design doesn’t require a professional designer. When followed, flag experts say even children can design excellent flags.

So back to Joplin. Here we have a case study in doing the right thing but it resulting in the wrong results. Let me explain.

Joplin, like Nixa is starting, held a design competition last year involving the community at large and executed in appropriate ways. A winner was clearly chosen by an independent judging panel; the public unveiling on the streets of downtown was broadcast live Oct. 20, 2016, on the Joplin Flag Facebook page.

The organizers never brought it before the city council, according to Lynn Onstot, Joplin’s public information officer.

Turns out, they had opposition to a flag change.

Another group countered the flag redesign movement and created a Facebook page called Citizens for the Joplin City Flag. Organizers call it a forum for those who want to keep the current flag design, which I’ll note violates a few flag design principles, such as the use of lettering and the city seal. The last message on the page was posted the day after the flag redesign selection announcement; it reads: “No worries that this will remain our city flag!” and it includes an image of the current flag adopted in 1992.

That’s troublesome considering the community competition netted some 100 design submissions, five finalists and 1,000 votes during a month long voting process. It seems little has been done to forward the flag since then.

“It’s seen more as a community flag,” Onstot says of the public’s choice, dubbed “Crossroads” and promoted by the Downtown Joplin Association.

According to Joplin Globe reporting, former councilman and mayor Richard Russell lobbied before council in August 2016 to keep the current flag in place. He commended its designer, Donald Clark, also a former councilman who died in 2006, for his labor of love and cited its popularity, especially as a lapel pin.

Another grassroots effort appears stalled.

Joplin’s not alone. Perhaps giving solace to struggling flag redesign organizers, much-hyped flag proposals in San Francisco have gone nowhere over the past two years, the vexillological association reports. But in Coral Springs, Florida, they’re celebrating a flag victory. After a contest there, the city’s waiving a new flag, a positive departure from featuring the city seal and all kinds of small lettering. Note to Nixa flag designers ahead of the Oct. 2 submission deadline: The flag doesn’t care the city was chartered on July 10, 1963, as was the case in Coral Springs’ original rendition.

There’s a lot to learn about city flags. Nixa residents will know if they have a new flag by Oct. 24, when councilmembers plan to decide.

But one thing’s for sure: People do care about them.

And isn’t that the point?

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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