In fall 2004 the public was invited to submit designs for a new Salt Lake City flag. This was my proposal.
No, it didn’t win.
“By most accounts, the city’s current flag is a little dull. It features an all-white background with a very small decal in the middle that’s almost incomprehensible when viewed beneath a large flag pole. The decal includes images of Salt Lake City’s pioneer life.”
That’s how the Deseret News described Salt Lake City’s flag on 19 September 2004 in an article on a contest held by then-mayor Rocky Anderson and the city council to design a new flag for Utah’s capital. That flag, which dated from the 1960s, had outlived its usefulness to a modern, progressive—if not yet cosmopolitan—city that had recently hosted the Olympic Winter Games.
I was in my second year at the University of Utah. I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring and give it a try. Who knew—maybe I could even win? The winner would receive a framed copy of his/her submission signed by the mayor and city council, an actual flag using his/her design, and a $100 gift certificate to a local framing shop. That sounded like a pretty good prize to me.
A friend came with me as I hopped on UTA TRAX to the City and County Building to hand-deliver my proposal to the Office of the Mayor shortly before the contest’s deadline of 17.00 on 30 November 2004. For the next couple of months I eagerly awaited the results of the judging.
It turns out that no one really won the contest. Of the over 50 entries received and the 3 finalists selected by a panel of judges, the city council didn’t like any of them, the Deseret News reported on 4 February 2005. The contest took a political tone (as most things connected with Rocky Anderson did) when Mr. Anderson directed that the seagull—which apparently was associated too exclusively with the city’s Mormon heritage—in one finalist’s submission be replaced with an eagle.
In the end, on 4 October 2006 Salt Lake City adopted a new flag that was “influenced” by a design submitted by Steven R. Jerman.
Even though my submission didn’t win—it wasn’t even selected as a finalist—I’m still proud of it. It’s not the most beautiful flag ever designed, but as I look back on it now it has a remarkable depth of symbolism. Here is my description of its symbolism, as related in the “written description of the meaning & symbolism contained in the design” required by the contest rules to accompany each submission.
This design consists of four colors. Three of the colors—red, white, and blue—are taken from the American and Utah flags. The fourth—gold—while present to a limited extent on the Utah state flag, is emphasized on this flag. Together, these colors represent the rich diversity of races, nationalities, religions, and peoples that make Salt Lake City. Individually, each color has a unique meaning:
Red. Red represents life. It represents the lives of those who gave their all to make the desert blossom like a rose. It also represents the life given to us by this land.
White. White represents purity. It is a pure color, just as this land was a pure land—a wilderness—when the first settlers arrived. It is a reminder that the responsibility to protect this land and use it wisely is a stewardship we still have. White also represents the purity of our citizens and our children as people who believe in the value of each individual, the power of democracy, and the security afforded by our cherished rights and responsibilities as individuals and communities.
Blue. Blue represents water. Water holds a special status in our world and in our culture. In this particular case it represents the defining geographic characteristic of the city, the Great Salt Lake. Water in a desert represents a resource that, though scarce, is invaluable to us. In the wintertime, water, in the form of snow, also covers the valley and the mountains that surround us. Blue, as the color of the sky, further represents the lofty goals and aspirations of this city and its people.
Gold. Gold represents wealth. This is a place of great natural wealth, with spectacular scenery, minerals and precious metals that have made us rich, and land that has produced in abundance. But this color also represents what truly makes us rich—the value of all those who live here and who make this city the unique and special place it is. Each of us is already wealthy because of the blessing we have to live in this place.
Shapes and symbols
Seagull and beehive. The historic symbols of our state and city have been preserved, updated, and given a position of prominence in this new flag.
Checkerboard pattern.The checkerboard pattern on the left side of the flag has two primary meanings:
- It represents the grid pattern of blocks and fields laid out by the city’s founders, for which Salt Lake City is still famous today. This grid pattern has enormous meaning as a representation of an orderly, beautiful city carved out of the wilderness by the sacrifice and bare hands of persecuted pioneers.
- It creates a sort of patchwork quilt effect on the flag, representing the mosaic of people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures who live here and who make this place what it is.
Blue field. The blue background on the right side of the flag represents the Great Salt Lake. And just as this city has been built on the threshold of the lake, the checkerboard pattern representing the city is on the threshold of the blue representing the water.
Stepped/zigzag pattern. As stated above, blue also represents the snow that covers our mountains, so, in effect, the blue field on the right side of the flag also represents our other defining geographical characteristic—our spectacular mountains. The zigzag pattern in the center of this flag represents the mighty slopes of the mountains around us. Symbolically it also represents the aspirations of this city and its people—a city and a people who are not satisfied simply to be complacent with things as they are, but are constantly and consistently working to make their city all that it can be.
This is a city with an illustrious past and a bright future. The two come together in this flag.
This article appeared on pages 24–25 of Issue 5 | January 2012.