New York State In-depth

The non-profit organization AdaptCNY is holding a competition to redesign the Syracuse flag

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In 2015, 100 years after Syracuse’s city flag was conceived, architecture podcaster Roman Mars pointed to it as an example of poor flag design in a TedTalk. Following subsequent debate in the Syracuse community, the Adapt CNY volunteer initiative is now holding a competition to fix these design issues and create a new flag.

“A flag should fly in the wind and be easy to spot from afar… right now it’s just a city seal on a bed sheet,” Andrew Frasier, a volunteer working on the Adapt CNY campaign.

Through its Syracuse Flag Initiative, the nonprofit is facilitating the redesign project by collaborating with creatives in the central New York community. Since 1915, a seal in the center of the city’s light blue and white flag has shown the Erie Canal, which formerly ran through downtown Syracuse. Now, the initiative’s judges will select a replacement from the community designs submitted based on design experience and connections to central New York.

Charles Miller, a professor in the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, said he would like a new design that more closely reflects how the city of Syracuse looks today. He said it was time the currently “lame” flag evolved.

“The flag is obsolete…it’s ugly, it’s sky blue…come on, our skies are never blue,” Miller said.

While addressing the redesign initiative and working to find the best way to update the flag, Frasier said the goal of Adapt CNY is to create a flag that acts as an emblem for the city that community members point to to be proud of.

“When cities have a good flag, you see them everywhere — t-shirts, bumper stickers, tattoos, all kinds of stuff — right now nobody knows if Syracuse has a flag,” Frasier said.

Frasier said the redesign competition is open to designers’ interpretation, with the exception of a few policy guidelines — including being simple and distinctive, using meaningful symbolism and two to three primary colors, and avoiding letters and sigils — which the current flag doesn’t meet.

The original flag was introduced by former Mayor Louis Will who wanted to add Syracuse
on the list of cities that had a “special flag,” shared the initiative’s Instagram page. A competition also decided the design of the original flag, which evolved until it was solidified in 1985.

Now, Frasier said that elements of the flag are out of place and not doing what a city flag should do as a representation of its modern community and that community’s history. The new flag, Miller added, was intended to symbolize parts of the city not tied to SU.

“The city is more than basketball and soccer… so we’re called the Salt City [we could] make it gray,” Fraiser said, adding that “the seal is good at being a seal, but it’s not great on a flag.”

The jury that will decide the new design of the flag is made up of people of different ages and races who are passionate about the redesign project, Frasier said. The committee’s judges hail from Syracuse and surrounding central New York and include professional designers, teachers, librarians and a member of the National Guard.

The initiative group will award each of the three to five finalists a $250 prize, as well as additional compensation for the designer of the final selected flag, according to the initiative’s website. Winn Wasson, a social science librarian at the Bird Library and a member of the flag committee, said he put together a research guide as a resource for the redesign process to engage the public in developing competitive designs.

“We want to make the submission process as accessible and inclusive as possible,” said Wasson.

Adapt CNY will be holding a briefing and workshop at the Bird Library on Thursday
from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., which includes a presentation about the initiative workshop so that participants can work on their design submission. The Bird Library will host an exhibition throughout February to showcase flag designs across the United States and the world.

Members of BLB and surrounding communities of all ages are welcome to illustrate
what the city of Syracuse means to them, Wasson said. He added that the exhibition aims to inspire people who are considering submitting a design.

The competition accepts entries until February 17th. According to Adapt CNY’s website, he will present the jury’s final design choices to the Syracuse City Common Council in June.

Contact Faith: [email protected]

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