Aug 31, 2022 - News

San Francisco resident dreams of a new city flag

Brian Stokle carries his San Francisco flag across the street
Brian Stokle carrying his San Francisco Fog & Gold Flag. Photo: Nick Bastone/Axios

As a proud San Franciscan, I've longed to enjoy our city's flag more than I do. But something about it just seems off to me.

  • Apparently, I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Driving the news: Prominent podcaster Roman Mars gave a TED Talk in 2015 that identified issues with San Francisco's flag based on some generally accepted design principles.

  • To start, our flag includes lots of lettering (the city's motto and name at the bottom), which Mars said is one of "the big no-nos."
  • Also, the phoenix at its center goes against the idea of keeping the composition simple.
  • Still, it does provide meaningful symbolism — representing San Francisco's recovery from a series of earthquakes and fires in the 1800s — which, according to the principles, is important for any flag.

Mars had plans to launch a competition to redesign San Francisco's flag, but by 2017, the project fizzled out.

Yes, but: There's a longtime San Francisco resident named Brian Stokle, who is keeping the dream of changing the city's flag alive.

Details: Stokle told me his phoenix is traced from an image of San Francisco’s original, 1900 flag with some "minor edits." Namely, he said, he "made the eye of the bird a little less mean."

  • As for the symbolism, Stokle said the gray can stand for fog and the gold — the city's connections to the gold rush.
  • But there can be many different explanations for the colors, he noted, and the phoenix's meaning of rebirth and resilience isn't limited to the idea of rebuilding after a major fire. It can be about "a city that's hit hard times and redefines itself," he said.

By the numbers: To date, Stokle has sold around 400 flags, including 250 of his classically sized 3-foot by 5-foot option.

  • The first time he saw one flying in the city — outside a residence on San Jose Avenue — he said he had "a mental tear in [his] eye."

Why it matters: A flag that resonates with its residents can inspire civic pride.

  • "It's not just a nice thing to have," Stokle said. "It can fortify and strengthen our communal essence."

Zoom out: Spurred by Mars' talks, several cities — including Salt Lake City, Reno and Sioux Falls — have updated their flag designs in recent years.

  • Milwaukee hasn't officially modified its yet, but an initiative to adopt an updated design — known as the People's Flag of Milwaukee — has gained momentum.

What's next: To actually change San Francisco's flag, the city admin code that lays out its broad design requirements would need to be amended, which, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said, would require the the Board of Supervisors to approve a new ordinance and the mayor to sign it.

  • Essentially, Stokle would need to gain support within City Hall.
  • "There's never going to be a perfect time [to push city leaders to adopt a new flag] … but there can be better times," Stokle said. "Like, coming out of COVID, rather than just saying 'the restaurants and hotels are back open,' wouldn't it be great to say 'we have a new flag that symbolizes a reborn city that's open to all?'
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