Opinion: Detroit is a great city. It deserves a great flag.


  • Courtesy of Deon Mixon Jr.

I do not have the honor of being a native Detroiter, but I’m a Detroiter now. When I first moved to the city eight years ago, I immediately fell in love. In the years that I had moved away, all I wanted was to move back. Now, I own a house with my wife in a residential neighborhood, and I am proud to call myself a Detroiter.

The topic of city pride has been on my mind lately. I love the sense of community in my neighborhood — how we all look out for one another and hope for the best for the future of our city. We have the drive, but we lack a great banner to rally behind: A great flag.

Detroit has a flag, and I’m glad to see it flown and used by businesses and residents. I even have a sticker of the flag on my laptop. But, while Detroit’s flag is certainly unique, you must wonder if it represents our city and its people accurately.

The current flag is divided into four quadrants, depicting the nations that ruled Detroit since it was first settled by Europeans: the lower left corner is France, the upper right is Great Britain, and the U.S. is represented by stars and stripes in the upper left and lower right corners. In the middle sits the city seal, portraying one woman weeping as the city burns behind her (representing the Great Fire of 1805) and another woman with a hopeful expression in front of a prospering city. Surrounding the women are the words “The City of Detroit, Michigan” and the city’s motto, which translates to, “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.”

While this flag represents our history, it does not necessarily represent our present and, more importantly, our future. Furthermore, the flag does not meet the basic requirements of good flag design.

Ted Kaye of the North American Vexillological Association (“vexillology” is the study of flags) wrote a book called Good Flag, Bad Flag, outlining the five basic principles of flag design: keep it simple, use meaningful symbolism, use two or three basic colors, no lettering or seals, and be distinctive or be related. When analyzing Detroit’s flag along these principles, we see that it violates three: It's complex, uses too many colors, and has both lettering and a seal.

I had the pleasure of hearing Deon Mixon Jr., a graphic designer and Detroit native, give a talk on a new flag he has designed for Detroit. His banner, dubbed “The Detroit Rise Flag,” not only follows the guidelines listed above, but represents the current population of Detroit and what we stand for.

The flag features black, representing resilience; white, representing righteousness; and blue, representing progression and the city’s blue-collar history. The five points of the white star in the top left represents the city’s biggest industries: automotive, music, art and design, life sciences, and high technology. The white curve in the flag’s center represents the Detroit River (honoring the French name, meaning “the strait”) and the city’s capacity to “rise from the ashes” and overcome.

I — along with many others — believe Mr. Mixon’s design is right for our city. While our current flag has a storied history, it is time to adopt one that showcases not only good design, but also our ability to rise.

I will proudly fly Detroit’s current flag for as long as it is official. But to represent our great city with a great flag, we must adopt The Detroit Rise — not to forget our past, but to show our hope for the future.

You can learn more about The Detroit Rise Flag at detroitriseflag.com.

Mark Navarro is a Communications Fellow at the Skillman Foundation and the Council of Michigan Foundations. He grew up in Adrian, and moved to Detroit in 2011 to teach high school. After moving to Madison, Wisconsin,  in 2013, he moved back to metro Detroit with his wife in 2016, and bought a house in the city in 2017. He is currently a student in Wayne State’s Masters of Public Administration program.

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