Wilson's municipal flag, shown here above the entrance to City Hall, is an example of what vexillologists, or flag design experts, call a "seal on a bedsheet."
Corey Friedman | Times
By Corey Friedman
In Charlotte, a distinctive crown welcomes visitors to the Queen City. In New Bern, a bear with long claws and a lolling tongue marches up an incline.
Here in Wilson, our city flag makes no such effort at symbolism. Fluttering above the entrance to City Hall, our banner is the municipal seal stamped in the center of a white background.
Design experts at the North American Vexillological Association call these unimaginative flags SOBs — short for seals on a bedsheet.
“Here’s the thing about municipal seals: They were designed to be on pieces of paper where you can read them, not on flags 100 feet away flapping in the breeze,” Roman Mars explains in a May 2015 TED Talk, which contends city flags “may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed.”
Wilson isn’t alone: For every striking city flag like those flown in Amsterdam, Chicago and Washington, D.C., there are dozens of duds. A common cardinal sin is the use of words, lettering, mottoes and seals.
“If you need to write the name of what you’re representing on your flag, your symbolism has failed,” Ted Kaye, a North American Vexillological Association member and the author of “Good Flag, Bad Flag,” notes in an interview for Mars’ podcast replayed on the TED stage.
Big cities and small towns are equal offenders. San Francisco and Milwaukee have ugly flags, and the tourist mecca of Savannah, Georgia, uses its municipal seal, though it’s surrounded by blue stars and encased by a red and blue border.
Worst of the worst: Pocatello, Idaho, which uses its chamber of commerce’s “Proud to be Pocatello” tourism logo as its flag — trademark symbols included.
Closer to home, Rocky Mount’s flag appears to consist solely of its municipal logo in large letters with sweeping blue lines. I think they’re supposed to represent rivers, but the largest accent framing the text looks more like a shock of unruly blue hair.
City flags that adhere to design principles inspire public pride and become cherished local symbols. The six-pointed red stars on Chicago’s banner can be seen on coffee cups, and the full flag is featured on stickers and patches.
The bear is beloved in my hometown of New Bern. The red and yellow shield borrowed from Bern, Switzerland, shows up on porch flags, coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, T-shirts and novelty license plates.
Wilson’s “seal on a bedsheet” motif just doesn’t inspire that kind of loyalty and public buy-in. If you’ve noticed it at all, have you ever seen Wilson’s flag design somewhere other than city-owned property?
A great city deserves a great flag, and I’m convinced we can do better.
“A well-designed flag can be seen as an indicator of how a city considers all of its design systems — its public transit, its parks, its signage,” Mars says. “It might seem frivolous, but it’s not.”
Kaye adds: “Often when city leaders say ‘We have more important things to do than worry about a city flag,’ my response is ‘If you had a great city flag, you would have a banner for people to rally under to face those more important things.’”
How about it, Wilson? Can we transform our flag into a vibrant symbol for Wilsonians to wear and share with pride?
Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.
Corey Friedman is editor of The Wilson Times. Reach him at 252-265-7813 and firstname.lastname@example.org.