CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids is in the early stages of designing a new city flag to replace what has been deemed one of the worst municipal flags in the country.
The white flag depicts industry, urban landscape, corn and churches in a series of scenes highlighted in blue. The words “Cedar Rapids” and “Iowa” stand out in red block letters above and below the pictures and the slogan “Proud of yesterday, progressive today, promising tomorrow” is written on a banner in small lettering.
“We’ve heard some kind of rumblings for the past little while, across several years, about our city flag,” Angie Charipar, assistant city manager, said during a meeting on Tuesday. “The city of Cedar Rapids flag ended up on the list of maybe not the best put-together flags.”
The North American Vexillological Association deemed the flag as one of the 10 worst in the country in 2004, which inspired inclusion in other “worst of” lists in the years since. In 2015, the Cedar Rapids flag was called out in a TED Talk about the importance of flags by Roman Mars, an American radio producer and flag aficionado.
“There is a scourge of bad flags and they must be stopped,” Mars said. “That is the truth and that is the dare. The first step is we must recognize we have a problem.”
Other cities criticized for their flags have updated them or are in process of doing so, including Milwaukee and Pocatello, Idaho, which had been dubbed the worst flag in the nation.
The Cedar Rapids flag came to be in 1962 when Jefferson High School student Fred Easker won a design contest among the city’s four high schools. Easker, now 74 and still living in Cedar Rapids, recalled meeting with then-Mayor Robert Johnson and having his photo taken after winning the contest.
Easker has heard the criticisms but said he doesn’t take it personally. He’s an established professional artist specializing in landscape paintings. He wasn’t aware of the city’s plans to replace the flag but said he is supportive.
“I think it is fine,” Easker said. “It was a long time ago. I am happy to have won the contest, but my own work has moved on way past it. So, it is not a big deal to me. I think there should be new one.”
The flag is on display behind the dais in the City Council chambers on the third floor of City Hall. City officials were not aware of it being flown elsewhere.
City Council member Ashley Vanorny said she learned of the flag’s notoriety while helping put on a TEDx conference in Cedar Rapids. She came across the Mars presentation on YouTube and pushed for a redesign.
“I’m proud of Cedar Rapids and want to do something better,” Vanorny said. “It’s a minor thing among the things I’m championing right now, but if we do it right, it could be something people get behind and put on display.”
Mars identified five principles of an effective flag: keep it simple, use meaningful symbolism, use two or three basic colors, no lettering or seals — never use writing of any kind because you can’t read that at a distance, he said — and be distinctive.
Charipar noted the current flag is “busy” and has words, running afoul of the recommendations. Cedar Rapids plans to use the five principles to guide the redesign, she said.
“We’ve done some research and kind of have a plan going forward of how we can look to engage residents and see what a new city flag could be,” Charipar said.
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The effort is expected to take a year, as city officials engage stakeholders and possibly professionals, hold open houses and vet different options. City officials also anticipate reviewing best practices from other flags around the country. A budget has not yet been set for the initiative, Charipar said.
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