Indianapolis' 'well-designed' flag flies below radar

February 19, 2011

The Indianapolis city flag turns 50 next year, but considering that urban design experts note the flag isn’t exactly plastered all over town, it’s probably a safe bet this is one golden birthday that won’t be much of a party.

It’s a pity, too, since the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA), an organization of flag enthusiasts, alleges Indianapolis has a pretty great flag.

city flagsA 2004 survey by the group ranked the Indianapolis flag eighth-best among 150 U.S. cities.

While Washington, D.C., and Chicago were first and second, respectively, Chicago-based urban analyst Aaron Renn says Indianapolis’ ranking proves the city symbol is a treasure, and something of a buried one at that.

“Indianapolis is lucky enough to have a flag that’s not only well-designed by expert standards, it’s just cool to look at,” Renn said. “Not many cities can say that, and yet hardly anyone knows what [Indianapolis’] looks like.”

The flag was designed by a Herron School of Art and Design student in 1962 as an entry for a city contest for the flag’s redesign. Renn believes the upcoming anniversary would be a perfect excuse for a resurrection.

“In Chicago, I’ve seen people with tattoos of the city flag, my bank down the street flies one, and people fly them from their houses. Indianapolis could easily inspire that same city pride with minimal effort,” he said.

It’s no wonder the symbol is obscure. The flag—four blue quadrants surrounding a red star that represents both Monument Circle and the city’s status as state capitol—is scarcely used aside from adorning certain city vehicles, like salt trucks. It’s even absent from the home page of the city’s website.

“I wouldn’t even know where to buy a flag if I tried,” said Michael Bricker, executive director of People for Urban Progress, a local organization that promotes urban design. This winter, the group has pondered a design contest to update the flag’s colors and dimensions, the result of which would be a possible pitch to city government.

“We see the flag as a chance to establish an identity for our city, right down to the citizen level,” Bricker said.

Rodney Reid, president of Indianapolis-based RLR Associates Inc., thinks too many symbols are floating around town. Reid designed the cultural district logos for the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission as a tool to help tourists navigate the city.“I think there’s some confusion as to what the city seal or symbol or logo actually is. The mayor’s letterhead has one thing on it, the police cars have another, and the city website has still another,” Reid said.

According to Renn, establishing a city identity through a unified symbol doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. Rather, it’s merely leveraging something the city already has in a fast, cheap and impactful way. He suggests distributing bookmarks or rulers with the flag on them to elementary school students, or affixing flag decals to all the downtown street signs.

“It’s not that Indianapolis is doing anything wrong, per se; not a lot of cities take advantage of their city symbols like Chicago has with its flag. But that’s why it’s such a great opportunity,” Renn said. “The Cultural Trail has made national news because no one else is doing it. This is another chance to do something cool.”•


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