Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
This was a survey that would have made Betsy Ross proud: hundreds of flag experts studied the flags of 150 U.S. cities on the Internet and rated them. And when the results came in last fall, Washington, D.C., could proudly boast that it has the best municipal flag in the land.
The D.C. flag's simplicity and the historic imagery behind it are two factors that won points in the poll. The design--three red stars and two red bars on a white background--was chosen by a congressional commission in 1938. It was adapted from George Washington's family coat of arms. "We're very proud of our flag and the history behind it," says Sherryl Hobbs Newman, Secretary of the District of Columbia.
What else do experts look for in a flag? According to the North American Vexillological Association, which conducted the survey, there are five principles of good design: A flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory, and should be rich in meaningful symbolism. Using more than three colors is a no-no, as is the display of any text or seals. Finally, flags should be distinctive.
By these standards, most U.S. flags don't score so well. On a scale of 1 to 10, more than two-thirds of city flags scored lower than a 5. (Full results are available online at http://www.nava.org/city_survey.htm). The flag judged to be worst was from Pocatello, Idaho, whose "Proud to Be Pocatello" logo was taken from some materials put out by the local chamber of commerce. "We had a contest to design a flag once, but we didn't get any entries," says Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase. "The flag was nothing that we put much thought into."
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