You’d be forgiven for not being able to draw Laconia’s official city flag from memory.
It doesn’t actually fly anywhere, so even most residents have never seen it. But an effort to redesign and reinvigorate the city flag is underway, and not everyone is happy about it.
If you're curious what the current flag looks like, head to Room 200A of City Hall, and look right above where the mayor sits during city council meetings.
“That’s the city flag, right there on the wall,” says Bree Henderson, a 28-year old resident and owner of Polished and Proper, an old-timey barbershop and shave parlor on Laconia's Main Street.
The background of the existing flag is broken into four triangles: The top triangle is green; the lower triangle blue, flanked by two white triangles on the sides.
In the middle, something that could be confused with blue road kill. It’s the rough outline of nearby Lake Winnipesaukee — though it’s been turned on its side.
“The seal of the city over top of it, with the words Lake Winnipesaukee straddling the seal,” explains Henderson. And then the words "Laconia, New Hampshire" spelled out at the bottom.
Compared to the Stars and Stripes, or Canada’s elegant maple leaf, this is a busy flag.
Henderson wants to help Laconia fly a new symbol, and conjure up some civic pride in the process. She got the idea for the project from a TED Talk given by Roman Mars, who also hosts a popular podcast on design called 99% Invisible.
“A great city flag is something that represents a city to its people, its people to the world at large, and when that flag is a beautiful thing, that connection is a beautiful thing,” says Mars.
He challenges people to take a hard look at their city flag, and to call out the ones that don’t inspire any connection. He also lays out five simple rules for what makes a good city flag, rules that were borrowed from a book on the subject — "Good Flag, Bad Flag" — authored by Ted Kaye.
Here are five guidelines for a "good flag," according to Kaye:
- Keep it simple. A flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
- Use meaningful symbolism. The flag’s images, its colors and its patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
- Use just two to three basic colors.
- Don’t use words or seals, because they can’t be easily read from a distance or on the backside of a flag.
- Be distinctive. A good flag captures the place, its people and its history.
“It also creates a central rallying point for civic pride," Kaye says. "It helps link people in the community saying, this is us, here we are under our flag.”
Ever since the TED Talk, cities across the country have redesigned and simplified their flags. That includes here in New Hampshire — Manchester is planning its own public redesign competition next year.
Laconia also agreed to a competition. This summer, the city council even put up $1,000 in prize money to attract more applicants.
And it worked: The city received more than 100 flag designs, many of which adhered to the "Good Flag, Bad Flag" ground rules.
A committee narrowed it down to six semi-finalists, which were then presented this week to the council — which promptly shot the whole thing down.
“Why are we changing it, what is so wrong with our present flag?” asked Brenda Baer, who represents Laconia's Ward 4. She voted against selecting a new design.
“There wasn’t one submission that had anything or said anything about Laconia, whatsoever," Baer said. "There was no relationship in any of them, to the city.”
Baer says she doesn’t buy the idea that Laconia would somehow suddenly rally together under a new flag.
Some irony here is that the current flag was itself designed through a competition. A high school kid in 1965 drew it up, the city adopted it — and then, seemingly, everyone forgot about it.
Bree Henderson says she’s not done fighting for a new one. She plans to bring the flag design competition back up during future council meetings.
“If I compared the city flag to a city employee who hadn’t done their job in 50 years," Henderson wondered, "don’t you think it is time to replace them?”
Last week, we asked you to weigh in on which flag you'd pick for Laconia's new look. (The contenders included six semifinalists considered by the city council as well as the existing flag.) As of 4 p.m. Monday, at when we closed the poll, the favorite is...
Here's the story behind this design, according to a description provided by Laconia's city council:
"This design uses the central element of the gear. The gear is a versatile element, symbolizing industry, travel, and the famous Laconia Motorcycle Week. In the center of the gear is a seascape representing the many beautiful bodies of water in and surrounding the area. The color scheme utilizes blue to represent the sea and sky, as well as orange, a color reminiscent of the popular NH Pumpkin Festival in the fall. The design is simple, yet represents many elements that make up the unique and beautiful city that is Laconia."