There are few things that instill more loyalty in a Cincinnatian’s heart than where you went to high school, where you get your favorite chili and what side of town you call home.
Henry Frondorf knows this better than anyone. President of the Westwood Civic Association, he founded the Cincinnati Neighborhood Games in 2016, aka an Olympics-style extravaganza where neighborhood teams compete in events like cornhole, tug-of-war, hula-hoop endurance and super-sized Jenga. Flags of participating groups are typically waved at opening ceremonies, and the Cincinnati Neighborhood Games are no different. But at the inaugural event, Frondorf found that no neighborhood actually had their own flag to fly. This called for a little improvisation on Frondorf’s part.
“Basically, I was up at 2 a.m. in my underwear designing these things before the neighborhood games,” he says.
The idea for CincyFlags was born— Frondorf would design a flag for all 52 Cincy districts. He applied for an Engage Cincy Challenge Grant, “a unique community building competition” through the City of Cincinnati aimed at launching creative projects with the goal of bettering the community.
But there was one hitch in the plan: He didn’t know anything about design. Enter: Joshua Mattie and Chris Cliff-Perbix, the collective force behind We Be Team, a local art and design studio.
The trifecta’s concept was selected this spring from a pool of 17 finalists and won a $10,000 grant from city, which was then matched by the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. (Five others also won grants.)
Most of those dollars are going toward the dozen or so professional designers spread across eight teams tasked with producing the flag designs themselves, all while following the official rules of good flag design according to the North American Vexillological Association (a real organization defined by their “common enthusiasm for flags.”) The rules for a perfect flag are clear: 1. Keep it simple; 2. Use meaningful symbolism; 3. Use two or three basic colors; 4. No lettering or seals; and 5. Be distinctive or be related.
The designs are executed by professionals, but the team wanted community members to have a say in what their flags would look like, so for phase one of the project they ran an online survey and hosted workshops throughout the city to find out what Cincinnatians valued most about their neighborhoods — and how they’d want their home visually represented.
“The grant that we won is a place-making grant,” Cliff-Perbix says. “So the idea is that these flags get adopted and people want to fly them and as you traverse the city, you’ll have a visual representation of where you’re going.”
Keeping in line with rule No. 4, the flags won’t have any writing on them, but rather have the neighborhoods be represented by color and imagery. For example, a preliminary design for Paddock Hills included a blue wave pattern to represent its swim club and a crown formed from the shape of a pin oak leaf, the type of tree that was planted at every house when the neighborhood was established. A draft for the West End flag included red and white for Taft High School, and designs for Over-the-Rhine feature Music Hall’s Rose Window.
Frondorf, Mattie, Cliff-Perbix and the rest of the designers are now focused on presenting the designs to the communities they represent and giving members the chance to give feedback and vote.
“Success with the project is getting the community to feel that their voices were heard and they were truly represented in these designs and feel compelled to fly them,” Mattie says.
The final results will be unveiled at a party tentatively planned for February, one year from when the group first joined forces.
“We want it to have some anticipation, some sense of occasion,” Mattie says. “It’s a really cool moment to get all the neighborhoods together for something that isn’t a pressing political concern or something that’s demanding a transaction from them. Let’s just get together and talk about our neighborhoods and how they’re all cool. All 52 of them.”
For more information on CincyFlags or to vote for your own neighborhood’s flag, visit cincyflags.com.