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Our View: Rochester's city flag needs a makeover

Mayor Ardell Brede unveiled a framed Rochester flag that flew over Kuwait Thursday at City Hall. The flag flew last February on a day when Brede and the Minnesota-based Serving Our Troops organization grilled 12,000 steaks for the Minnesota National Guard troops under the command of Col. Eric Kerska (right) and other troops.
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We probably should thank Gizmodo for nominating Rochester as having one of the worst city flags on Earth.

OK, that's a huge exaggeration. It's not a terrible flag, but the design and technology blog, known for its snarky commentary, did point out that it's time for Rochester to take another look at the banner it adopted after a design contest in 1980. Gizmodo mocked Rochester for having "geese from the future," referring to the computer-style lettering that encircles the city's most famous birds flying over Silver Lake.

The font, called "Data 70" in the graphic-design world, was an appropriate choice when the flag was first unfurled. Artist Laurie Muir , whose design was chosen in a contest of nearly 200 submissions, set out to replicate the Minnesota state flag, choosing the distinctive font to represent IBM as one of the city's major employers. Mayo Clinic, by far the city's largest employer, is represented on the flag with images of the Plummer Building and the main Mayo building.

IBM was the city's largest employer in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. At its peak, IBM had 8,000 workers at its Rochester site. Big Blue, which stopped releasing its employment numbers some time ago, now has an estimated 2,600 to 2,700 workers at its Rochester site. Mayo Clinic passed IBM as the city's largest employer in 1967 and now has more than 32,000 workers, according to figures compiled by Rochester Area Economic Development .

The computer font, which once looked futuristic, now looks dated. IBM's significantly reduced workforce diminishes the reason it was chosen in the first place.


Gizmodo, which was barred from Apple Inc.'s events for four years after obtaining an iPhone 4 prototype well before it was publicly released, also made fun of Minneapolis' flag, a pennant with four emblems denoting education, labor and industry, lakes and rivers, and science. The irreverent commentary on city flags caught the attention of Rochester City Council members.

"I look at (a new flag) as unifying the brand of Rochester," said Council Member Nick Campion, who sees the unfolding Destination Medical Center development as a good reason to revisit the flag's design.

We agree with Campion, who said he wants to keep the "retro feel" of the flag by retaining the overall design and depiction of giant Canada geese, but he wants to reconsider some elements such as the font.

Other council members kept the flag design in perspective.

"To be clear: This is an unimportant issue," said Council Member Michael Wojcik, a longtime critic of the flag. "But we can walk and chew bubble gum. We can look for a new flag and still tackle important issues. We're world class in so many things. It would be great to show that in the flag."

We like Wojcik's suggestion of again soliciting submissions, as well as advice from flag experts. One of the consultants on that list should be Lee Herold, owner of Herold's Flags in Rochester.

Rochester's flag was appropriate for the time it was created. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was president. Gasoline was $1.25 a gallon. And a postage stamp cost 15 cents.

Times have changed. So should our flag.

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