August 30, 2012

Do you like this?

When news emerged last week that the mayor’s office had proposed updating the city’s flag, our first question was, “What flag?” Our second, upon viewing the proposed redesign was, “You must be kidding?”

Admittedly, the version we first viewed online was a screenshot taken from local TV station WRCB, but the city’s current flag (which is widely unknown, even though it’s been in existence since the 1920s) is far superior to the proposed redesign, which looks like the colors of a third-world nation or a recently independent British colony.

Worse than that, the redesign is not, according to Mayor Ron Littlefield, up for discussion and should be rushed to city council for a vote (which it was on Tuesday).

“The more you talk about it, the more divisive and controversial it becomes,” he said in the Times Free Press on Friday.

At least one council member agrees, but the process—as Chuck Crowder points out in his “Life in the Noog” column—should not only be open to debate, but the subject of a design competition.

The new flag was designed by former City Councilman David Crockett, who told the TFP, “I’ve been trying to get this thing done for 15 years.”

Really? So why is the flag so widely unknown? And what’s the rush? Let’s face it, government officials and employees are historically unqualified to act as tastemakers. Littlefield’s reasoning makes little sense, nor does his assertion that the current flag too closely resembles the state flag, unless we plan to secede.

This is just the sort of opportunity that should be open to Chattanooga’s talented design community. To simply rush through a bland flag with the city seal stamped on it because it was the pet project of a former council member is not only wrong, but also makes Chattanooga seem to be the banana republic this flag represents with Littlefield as its dictator.

—The Editors

Postscript: On Tuesday evening, shortly after we went to press with this week's issue, Mayor Littlefield did indeed rush the vote on the adoption of a new city flag, which was passed 6-3 in a council vote. Despite a rational appeal from Tianna Buckwaiter of the Company Lab, who spoke on behalf of several citizens on hand to object to the quick adoption, Littlefield again showed his alarming lack of instinct for public sentiment (recall the cancellation earlier this year of the Bessie Smith Strut) before issuing his decrees.

"Not only does our city have an entirely different reputation 20 years later, but it has an entirely different set of resources, including an active and very engaged creative community," Buckwalter was quoted in the Times Free Press on Wednesday, speaking about the design of the new flag, which dates back to 1994.

While the issue of a city flag itself may seem minuscule in comparison to other, more pressing matters (and its previous lack of existence), in an era when Chattanooga has become a symbol of revival and renaissance a creative new flag design would that represents this renewal would have united Chattanooga. We are a city experiencing new breakthroughs in design—from our new typeface, Chatype, to the hundreds who embraced the Urban Design Challenge—as part of that renewal. Instead, this rush to vote without community involvement again speaks poorly of our elected leaders. Worse, this sort of logic—a lack of debate open to the public—could be applied to other, much more important issues. And that's just scary.

August 30, 2012

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