Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Who Wants to Design A New City Flag?

Common Council starting process intended to end flag debate.

By - Apr 23rd, 2019 10:46 am
The official flag of the City of Milwaukee.

The official flag of the City of Milwaukee.

The debate over a new Milwaukee flag might have an end date.

A file pending before the Common Council specifies that a new flag design should be presented to the Common Council for adoption on or before May 31st, 2020.

The resolution would set in motion a process that the Common Council and Milwaukee Arts Board already indicated they support – hiring an individual, group or firm to design a new city flag.

Sponsored by council members Mark Borkowski, Nik Kovac and Khalif Rainey, the file instructs City Clerk Jim Owczarski to prepare a request for proposals and request for qualifications for the outreach and design necessary to create a new city flag.

People's Flag of Milwaukee. Photo from

People’s Flag of Milwaukee. Photo from

The flag debate, or at least this round of it, was spurred by an unofficial process to design a new flag led by graphic designer Steve Kodis in 2016. After a series of events, including one held at City Hall with Mayor Tom Barrett and Council President Ashanti Hamilton, and an online vote, designer Robert Lenz‘s “Sunrise over the Lake” design was selected.

The current flag, which has been derided as the worst city flag in America, was created by then-Alderman Fred Steffan in 1955 by merging elements from a variety of design contest entries into a single flag. The Milwaukee Arts Board recently voted to recommend the city adopt a new flag, in part because of the depiction of a Native American head in war dress on the current flag. The warrior is believed to be a representation of the then-Milwaukee Braves professional baseball team.

But while the Milwaukee Arts Board endorsed the idea of a new flag, it did not endorse the People’s Flag because of concerns over inclusivity in the selection process. Concerns were raised over the lack of Spanish language outreach and an online-only voting platform. Kovac called them more sins of “omission than commission.” The Common Council received the recommendations of the board in February, but did not act on them at the time.

Rainey wasn’t pleased with the council’s lack of action. “I think this is one of several instances where the city is out of sync with what the people want,” said Rainey in advocacy of the People’s Flag. And it appears we will now get a chance to find out if that’s correct.

The resolution instructs the commissioner that the RFQ (Request for Qualification) and RFP (Request for Proposal) process should request a cost estimate for “conducting outreach and designing a new flag based on community feedback.” It does not include any financial appropriations. Government contracting rules require the city to accept the lowest, qualified bidder, should they go forward with the project.

Will a new designer advance Lenz’s design as the new city flag? Will Kodis or Lenz bid to run the process? Or will a new designer start over from scratch? “I think it’s important that we’re not excluding this flag. That could be the next flag for our city,” said alderman and arts board member Michael Murphy in November.

The Steering and Rules Committee will debate the resolution at its Thursday meeting. It would then go to the full Common Council for approval. The council, which meets in three-week cycles, would then approve the actual RFQ/RFP. The council would then need to actually hire the winning bidder and appropriate funds for the matter. And if all goes as planned, the council would ultimately need to vote to approve the new flag. The mayor could veto any step in the process, delaying or killing the effort.

If you’re a long-time Milwaukeean this all might sound familiar. In 2001 the Milwaukee Arts Board and Common Council held a contest that drew 105 designs, but none were met with approval.

Urban Milwaukee’s sister business, Urban Milwaukee: The Store, sells merchandise bearing both the current flag and People’s Flag.

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Related Legislation: File 181772

More about the People's Flag of Milwaukee

Read more about People's Flag of Milwaukee here

5 thoughts on “City Hall: Who Wants to Design A New City Flag?”

  1. kmurphy724 says:

    I like the People’s Flag. Perhaps people don’t know the distinctly Milwaukee design it represents: The gold color of the top fess symbolizes Milwaukee’s rich brewing history. The centered disc represents the sun rising over the horizon of Lake Michigan, as seen while looking East from the shore of the city. The three stripes represent the founders of Milwaukee and its three original settlements: Kilbourn Town, Juneau Town and Walker’s Point. Their light blue color symbolizes our three rivers: Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic. The navy color of the bottom fess symbolizes Lake Michigan and our status as a port city and hub for water technology.

  2. MilwaukeeMax says:

    Kodis and his group did make a concerted effort to be inclusive in their process in 2016.. any new attempt will surely receive criticisms of missing in some way or another.
    Redoing the whole process seems like a waste of time and money at this point— the city should just adopt the People’s Flag as the official flag and move on to other things.

  3. Duane says:

    I love the old flag, kitschy is good. (I especially love what looks like a guy in a space ship in the upper right quadrant of the gear wheel). The “people’s flag” is the dreadful result of group think and the notion that the flag has to adhere to certain design criteria. Leave the flag alone, Sanders or Warren 2020.

  4. Sam C says:

    Although I find this whole additional process stupid and unnecessary…

    The old flag is kitschy and pretty ugly. Have the city sell the emblazoned t-shirts/flags to anyone who wants one forever. As for the city flag and perhaps the city’s official emblem, choose something simple much like the “People’s Flag” or some new design. Definitely include the “People’s Flag” in any final selection process.

  5. MilwaukeeMax says:

    Kitschy is not good.

    Kitschy is almost always bad design. Personal sentimental value does not apply to broad public appeal. Just because your grandpa had the old flag hanging in his basement doesn’t mean it ‘works’ for the rest of the city.

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