Staff Columnist

Cedar Rapids wants to rally 'round a new city flag

Vexillologically speaking, which isn’t easy, Cedar Rapids’ city flag is a rule-breaker.

Its “Cedar Rapids” and “Iowa,” emblazoned in bright red, apparently break the cardinal rule of flag design, namely that lettering or writing is verboten. Its detailed blue scenery, depicting a pioneer cabin, churches, industry and the Veterans Memorial Building, is anything but simple, let alone simple enough that “a child can draw it from memory.”

It’s red, white and blue. Good. But it lacks meaningful symbolism. Bad.

Vexillology, by the way, is the study of flags.

I learned these rules from Roman Mars, who hosts a radio show on design, who learned them from Ted Kaye, author of the booklet “Good Flag, Bad Flag.” Mars gave a TED Talk in 2015 during which he showed the Cedar Rapids flag as a bad flag example, among others.

If you think that’s bad, in 2004 the North American Vexillological Association declared Cedar Rapids has one of the 10 worst city flags in the country. Barely nudged Provo.

“Few things give me more joy than a well-designed flag,” said Mars, who added he is on “a crusade to make flags more beautiful.”

Cedar Rapids city leaders have heard these vexed vexillologists and are working to come up with a new flag design over the next year or so. The public likely will be involved. It’s a not a big priority, they insist, just an effort to stir up some civic pride.

The current flag was created by a high school kid in 1962. It’s actually sort of charming in its unassuming homespun artistry. It was not the product of slick, professional branding, that’s for sure.

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It’s actually tempting to stick up for this battered banner, but how can we be against pride and joy? The guy who drew the current flag, Fred Easker, now 74, told The Gazette’s B.A. Morelli he supports a change.

There is the question of whether a city needs a flag. Cedar Rapids has no space program, so planting the new flag on Mars is unlikely. Is the city secretly preparing to march under its new banner to Marion to seize that threatening cannon? If so, they’d better be prepared to “Reach Higher!”

Is Cedar Rapids simply too sensitive to the opinions of outsiders? In recent years we’ve seen city leaders target in vain the old “City of Five Smells” joke and explore giving Mount Trashmore a classier moniker. It’s all harmless column fodder until keeping up with the cool kids leads you to newbo evolve.

Mars says flags are a community rallying point. What should Cedar Rapids rally around?

A traffic camera flag, with its unblinking eye? I hear most people are pro-camera these days.

A big bowl of Crunch Berries? The Tree of Five Seasons? American Gothic’s pitchfork? Those two bigheads outside of the Museum of Art?

Maybe the city and county could have a joint flag with hands shaking in the spirit of cooperation. Yeah I couldn’t type that with a straight face.

Speaking of rallying, maybe the flag should depict a shovel, the kind folks grab in a hurry to fill sandbags. It’s meaningful symbolism, to be sure. Kids can draw it, easy. The vexillologists will love it.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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