City Flags of Note – And Why You Should Note Them

Just like countries, many cities across the world sport flags. Some of these are resplendent banners that portray an aspect of their city with dignity and clarity. Some of these are dreadful errors. A few examples of intriguing city flags follow.

We’ll start with some of the better ones, in no particular order.

Buffalo, New York

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Now that’s a flag! Stars you can see on any number of flags, but lightning bolts are awesome. Throw in a pleasant old-style ship and lighthouse on the seal, and everyone in Buffalo has more to be proud of than just wings.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

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Any flag with an animal on it is automatically pretty good. An animal that is also a giant whale is automatically even better, even if it is representing the city’s former reliance on the whaling industry. Clearly this whale is so over that, you guys. Look at his happy smile. Plus, the nonstandard flag shape demonstrates that Nantucket doesn’t feel they need to conform to The Man’s old-fashioned dependence on rectangles.

Jacksonville, Florida

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Ordinarily, words on flags are a big design flaw, but Jacksonville makes up for it by the completely awesome Andrew Jackson on horseback in front of the rising sun. The colors are great, and very evocative of Florida, so we’ll give the “you are here” branding a pass. You do you, Jacksonville.

Baltimore, Maryland

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Check that out. A great combination of colors in a fantastic pattern (the coat of arms of Baron Baltimore) with a blazon of the Battle Monument in the center. One hundred percent class; Baltimore doesn’t have to prove anything to any of you.

Easton, Pennsylvania

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Fantastic! An inversion of the Stars and Stripes, this flag supposedly dates back to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Easton on July 8th. It may be one of the early designs of the United States flag, although it has been pointed out that those designs at the time generally had fifteen stripes and stars. Also, eight-pointed stars instead of the more common five. Still, it’s a great design.

Richmond, Virginia

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Good use of the red, white, and blue; nice circle of stars; dramatic silhouette of a man poling a bateau down the James River. Simple and effective. Everyone is happy.

Wichita, Kansas

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Simple and symbolic: The blue circle represents happiness and contentment, with the Hogan symbol in the center representing a permanent home. The red and white rays alternating represent the freedom to come and go as you please, reflective of Wichita’s status as the Air Capital of the World. You didn’t know that? The city hosts several aircraft design and production facilities.

St. Louis, Missouri

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Strikingly different from most flags with its wavy lines (representing the joining of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers) and bold red field, plus an attractive fleur-di-lis representing the state’s French heritage. Simple and effective, like a flag ought to be. St. Louis could be giving lessons to some of the following cities.

Bridgeport, Connecticut

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This is pretty nearly the laziest possible design for a flag. You already have a seal, so just throw it on a background. Done. Oh, wait, put the name of the city on there. Yes, it’s already on the seal, but trust us, no one who sees a seal on a flag is going to look at it even a little bit. May as well use some of that vast expanse of blue for something. Stitch on the name of the state, too, and you can ensure that schoolchildren who come visit the city council buildings on their field trips will be too dazed to run around and shriek at everything.

Gainesville, Florida

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All right, we apologize. This is the laziest possible design. It’s even a white flag, so as little effort went into this as could be. Sorry, Bridgeport, we were lashing out.

At least it’s a pretty neat train?

Tampa, Florida

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The other approach isn’t always successful, either. Clearly the Tampa Flag Commission made an effort, but after what we’re guessing were twenty-two months of debate and discussion and “donations,” they would up with this extremely busy banner.

We like the fact that it’s not rectangular … always nice, but so many colors! So many little strips of color! Stars on stripes! A seal managing to somehow break up any bit of flair the flag itself might have eked out!

Let’s see what they tried to evoke with the symbolism: hmm, well … designed by one F. Grant Whitney, so, no committee … okay, includes an “H” and a “T” for Hillsborough County and Tampa, respectively; nothing about a “K”―although there is clearly one there if we’re playing that game.

Colors and elements are derived from the various countries that helped settle and establish the area: United States (red, white, blue, stars, stripes); United Kingdom (um, red, white, blue, stars, stripes―but angled ones this time); France (red, white … some kind of pattern seems to be developing … blue); Spain (gold, red, vertical stripes); and Italy (red, white, green). Very inclusionary, Mr. Whitney, but … ugh.

Detroit, Michigan

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We feel a little bad for picking on Detroit, here, because―again―so much effort clearly went into it. Maybe too much effort. Four quadrants, all with their own device, plus a seal in the center. Well, let’s sort it out.

The seal is actually a pretty nice one, representing the city’s nearly complete destruction in the fire of 1805, with the Latin inscriptions “Spearamus Meliora,” meaning “We Hope for Better Things,” and “Resurget Cineribus,” meaning “It Will Rise From the Ashes.” The figure on the left is weeping over the devastation, while the one on the right is gesturing to the rebuilt city. Powerful and meaningful, and apparently the seal was redesigned in 2000 to be less busy, so they were trying, we will give them that.

The quadrants are for France (lower-left corner), England (upper-right corner), and the United States (upper-left and lower-right), all representing countries that controlled the fort that became Detroit in the past. A good sentiment, but more a coat of arms than a flag, really.

We’re feeling generous after breaking it down; feel free to copy and paste this section back into the top part under the better examples. But, let that be a lesson to future city flag designers: If you need to have a guide explain each part of your flag to onlookers, you might want to pare it down a bit.

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