I’ve written about Milwaukee’s oft-maligned city flag before, but here it is again in all its kindergarten-clutter glory:
Many Milwaukeeans don’t even know we have a flag, as it’s flown in few places in the city and available for purchase in even less. I had to buy mine from North Carolina.
In recent months it’s been en vogue for Milwaukee’s artist community to demand we eliminate our flag and create a new one that is simpler, iconic, and boring. Hell, there’s even a Change.org petition (with 10 signers), because our flag is as important to change as child poverty.
While there are both good and bad designs floating around, I think the discussion is misguided. The Milwaukee flag is lacking in subtlety, but people are pointing at Chicago as the perfect flag to model. How idiotic. Chicago needs to have a childishly-simplistic flag by necessity: they’re such a large and diverse city that there’s no way to truly represent everyone, so instead their flag represents no one. Milwaukee’s flag at least tries to represent every single thing in the city – even if it fails miserably.
Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are where the city is growing: that is what we should be focusing on. Milwaukee historian John Gurda and local artist Jan Kotowicz knew this back in the 1980s when they created the Neighborhood Poster series. I believe they were ahead of their time, but focused on the wrong medium. While posters are great for garages and dorm rooms, a flag can be hung inside or outside of any establishment.
I even came up with some simple ideas to get the conversation going (NOTE: all flag designs made by and property of Joe Powell, cuz they are definitely steal-worthy):
East Town (Juneautown), the main business center of downtown, is known for its Calatrava edition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Sunburst outdoor art piece.
Some of the lesser-known and smaller neighborhoods can help regain/retain their identities as the city grows.
Brewer’s Hill is an increasingly-trendy neighborhood on the Milwaukee River just north of Beerline B and Lakefront Brewery. The hill on the flag is also a brew-kettle, and the four stars represent the four major breweries in Milwaukee (Blatz, Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller).
Downer Woods, the area surrounding UWM, is full of urban-trees and Panthers.
Jones Island, the once-fishing village and current-waste water treatment plant is full of stacked shipping containers but also houses Milwaukee’s smallest park.
We should focus on adding to our city’s history and civic pride, not tearing down what we already have. The Milwaukee city flag is ugly and brash and busy and unique, just like us. Leave it alone, and instead create new sources of pride for our diverse and eclectic neighborhoods.