The City of Pocatello Changed Its Flag — Should Boise Do The Same?

Symbols and emblems make a difference, especially on the local level.

It’s been close to three years since the city of Pocatello, Idaho, first flew its newly designed flag. For nearly 20 years, Pocatello flew what was dubbed the worst city flag in North America by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA).

According to Brian Holmes at KTVB Channel 7 News in Boise, the story goes that, back in the year 2000, the Pocatello Chamber of Commerce designed a logo for a city pride campaign lead by Greg Gunter. Some anonymous person on the campaign team had two flags made.

Then, in May of 2015, TED released a Ted Talks presentation in which design expert Roman Mars explained the differences between good and bad design, particularly when it comes to municipal standards. He notes that most cities, even large and grand ones like San Francisco and Amsterdam, have banners with some pretty ugly, and unwieldy designs.

But the award for the worst design in North America went to Pocatello, Idaho. You can see it at the bottom of this list of bad U.S. city flags.

In the Ted Talk on vexillology, Mars uses Chicago’s sigil as a prime example of good design and tells how a city emblem of that caliber can bring a community together.

It could be said that even a poorly designed flag has the same power. Almost immediately after the citizens of Pocatello heard about NAVA’s rating, the community formed a design committee to change it.

For most residents, this was the first they had heard about having a city emblem at all. Two years later, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many people inside and outside the Pocatello area, a banner displaying a much better design was born. It incorporates imagery that speaks to Pocatello’s environment and history in a way that is simple and noble. It is an image that the people of Pocatello can take pride in calling their own.

Like most of the other 50 states, the Idaho state flag is guilty of going against some of Mars’ design rules through its use of a state seal and an ornate ribbon with Idaho’s name on it. And, like the state, the City of Boise has a flag that would not stand up well against Mars’ design scrutiny. In 2004, NAVA put out an Internet survey for the public to rate the sigils of 150 different American cities. Boise’s banner, which still flies today, was rated 3.05 out of 10, which placed 114th out of 150. 

It’s true, Boise has not been under social fire because of the banner it flies outside City Hall, and there are plenty of other problems to be solved as it is. But maybe we could take a lesson from Pocatello, and heed Roman Mars when he says, “One hundred percent of people care about flags. There’s just something about them that works on our emotions.”

The City of Trees flies a flag that gets the job done. It has gentle colors, a familiar image, and it has the city’s name written across it. But does this flag work on our emotions? Does it light a little fire of Boise pride in our hearts? Is it an easily repeatable and legible symbol that would fit well anywhere? Is it an emblem that could germinate community cohesion and a sense of regional significance?

Boise is growing very quickly. Many people moving here and to Idaho in general plan on settling down and staying for the long haul. The City of Boise could use a symbol that unites us as our communities continue to expand. It may still be a matter of years before Boise reaches the population of a million people; all the more reason for Boise to adopt a symbol the city can be proud of before we get there.

What do you think? Should the City of Boise change its flag? Or is that the last thing it should be worrying about right now?

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Adam Brimhall

Adam Brimhall

An expert at going out.