Pittsburgh flies the Jolly Roger and banners bearing the Steelmark logo year-round and is a city known for taking its colors seriously. Whether on the ice or the field, black and gold flags are ubiquitous. The city’s official flag, however, is rarely seen.
This caught the attention of Will Simmons, writer and editor of the Pittsburgh Orbit, a local city web magazine dedicated to off-beat and oddball Pittsburgh stories. He decided to take it upon himself to find the “people’s” flag of Pittsburgh, through an online contest.
“I listened to this podcast, and it talked about the redesign of Portland, Oregon’s city flag,” said Simmons.
In Portland, community members successfully collaborated to modernize their flag, which was later adopted by the city.
Inspired by the thought of a “unifying flag,” Simmons began to do his research.
“At the time, I couldn’t have even described to you what the Pittsburgh city flag looks like,” Simmons said. “It’s kind of a shame that we have all this civic pride, and people are actually flying flags, and yet nobody uses the official city flag.”
So, Simmons gave the people an opportunity to express what they'd want their flag to look like. The guidelines were left intentionally broad. All participants could choose from any color scheme, style of design or dimensions of the flag itself.
“We didn’t at all enforce the black and gold thing, except basically every single flag used black and gold, which was interesting," Simmons said.
After reviewing tons of submissions, Simmons began to notice a trend: rivers were featured in nearly every flag. Simmons said he figured most Pittsburghers felt that the tributaries were consistently Pittsburgh, more than any sports team or building.
“Of anything you could put on a flag, the rivers are not going leave Pittsburgh,” said Simmons, “we sure hope. Or, we’re all in trouble.”
Simmons and Orbit readers aren’t alone in their inclusion of rivers for the flag’s redesign. In August, Jackson Romero started a change.org petition to change the city flag. In his appeal, he also cited the rivers as being “the major geographical feature of Pittsburgh” and said any redesign would need to be less “cluttered” than the current one. In his design, he includes a simple, abstract drawing of the rivers.
Other flag designs submitted to the Orbit featured bridges, local sport teams, bridges and even pierogis.
In 2004, the Pittsburgh city flag it was ranked the 24th best city flag in the United States, according to the North American Vexillological Association. Their views on the principles of flag design include simplicity, meaningful symbolism and the use of color.
Simmons doesn’t expect his contest to result in a redesign of the city flag, but hopes it might open the door to further the discussion about the impacts of a new “people’s” flag.
Other flag submissions to the Orbit's competition can be found here.