The New Syracuse City Flag Takes Inspiration from Many Local Places
November 29, 2023
For this piece, I’m channeling my inner Sheldon Cooper and having a little ‘Fun with Flags.’ The flag at the center of this chat is none other than the new Syracuse city flag.
When the top contenders for the new city flag were first announced, waves of confusion shook Syracuse. Surprisingly, many locals had not realized that our beloved city even had its own flag. (But of course it did!) Nevertheless, the flag that existed was dated and lacked the symbolism that a Syracuse flag truly deserved.
The Search for New Syracuse City Flag Designs
The search for a new Syracuse city flag was spearheaded by local nonprofit organization Adapt CNY. The members live and breathe for the people of Syracuse, and they wanted the city flag to represent the people that make up the Syracuse community. That’s how the aptly-named Syracuse Flag Initiative came to be.
Like the current flag, the original city flag was conceived through a contest, albeit in 1915, making the flag over a century old. It lacked creativity, recognizability, originality, and simplicity. In fact the previous flag design was basically the city seal stamped on a white piece of fabric. So the search began for a new design.
The Syracuse Flag Initiative kept the parameters very simple, and opened up a world of possibility for what the new flag could look like. Anyone was allowed to enter a design, whether or not they lived in Syracuse or even had any design experience. By the deadline in February 2023, approximately 300 different designs had been submitted. It was then up to a small committee of judges to narrow it down to four: The Unity Flag, The Evening Tree, The First Light Flag, and The Grain of Glory. The finalists were announced in May and over 1000 votes from the public determined that Eric Hart’s First Light Flag was the winner. The flag was raised at Syracuse City Council on July 5, 2023 with Mayor Ben Walsh present.
About Eric Hart, designer of the new Syracuse flag
As a kid growing up in the valleys of Syracuse, Eric Hart was a proud member of a family with deep local roots. In fact, his family goes back 8 generations in Syracuse, originally from the Nedrow area. After attending Corcoran High School and then Onondaga Community College, Eric graduated from Syracuse University. He earned his BFA in Communications Design in 2010. With a history like his, there couldn’t be a more perfect person to create the new Syracuse city flag.
Before creating the First Light Flag, Eric spent a decade traveling between New York City and Tokyo for work. He is associated with major projects from impressive clients including Disney+ and HBO Max. Most recently, he has focused on growing his own brand. Earlier this year Eric founded his own design company, Hartbreakers Creative. His focus has shifted to the local community, with his mission to “give back, empower and inspire.”
The reasoning design of Syracuse’s new flag
When Eric went about designing a flag for the city he knew and loved, he did extensive research. He looked through flag symbolism, the history of flags around the world, and the reasoning behind flag colors. He even met with people around Syracuse, including members of the Onondaga Nation.
It goes without saying that he did not come about the final design lightly. Believe it or not, Eric scrapped 269 designs before being satisfied with the 270th – and final – design of The First Light.
While the design may look simple at first glance, that’s actually the beauty of it. There is such depth to the meaning behind every design choice. Each piece represents an important element of the people, history, culture, landscape, and industry that make up the Syracuse community. Eric goes into great detail on the meaning behind each element on his Instagram and the First Light Flag website.
To me, the most prominent feature of the new city flag is the six-pointed star in the center of the design. And rightfully so. The six points represent the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, the people who lived here first. Without the foundation laid by the native Onondaga people, we would not be who we are today.
Not only do the six points represent the indigenous people, but they also represent the six historical names of Syracuse. Did you know that Syracuse was once referred to as Salt Point, Webster’s Landing, Bogardus Corners, Milan, South Salina, and Cossits’ Corners?
Additionally, the star represents THE star, our sun. It is the guiding light, rising in the east.
VISIT A LOCATION THAT INSPIRED THE FLAG: The Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center in Liverpool includes a museum dedicated to the history, people, and culture of the Native Haudenosaunee. It is one of the best ways to learn about the indigenous culture of Central New York and show appreciation for the native people of our area.
The mirrored triangles
If you’ve ever driven through Central New York, you are very familiar with the rolling hills and valleys that make up the landscape. When I look at the flag design, I’m always reminded of the bend along 81 north when you first see the Syracuse skyline in the distance. That moment (around mile marker 70) always brings a sense of nostalgia like coming home.
Together, the three triangles also represent Syracuse’s past (azure blue), present (white), and future (navy).
VISIT A LOCATION THAT INSPIRED THE FLAG: One of my favorite secret spots in all of Syracuse is at the park bench atop Lincoln Park. From there you can get one of the best views of the city, especially at sunset. At that spot you can appreciate the rolling hills surrounding downtown Syracuse. Alternatively, if you’re walking the loop around Green Lakes, you can find just the perfect “v” in the surrounding hills — and its reflection in the water.
In other words, the “V” that is created from the triangles joining at the center of the design. It both represents the Roman numeral 5, for the 5 Syracuse Common Council districts, and also the international peace sign. ✌🏻
The symbolism of the flag’s colors
The official colors of the First Light Flag are orange, azure blue, navy blue, and white.
And while it’s safe to say that the idea of Syracuse University may have played a role in its inclusion (Eric is an alum after all), that is NOT why he chose to include it in the design. Among other things, the orange represents the sun, regeneration, passion, creativity… Nevertheless, Eric admits “It would not be a Syracuse flag without orange in it. The color orange has ripened alongside the city as the city has developed since the late 1800s.”
VISIT A LOCATION THAT INSPIRED THE FLAG: If you haven’t seen a Syracuse sunset over Onondaga Lake, have you really lived in Syracuse? The vibrant orange (and pinks) are truly breathtaking. It’s nice to see a piece of that represented in the flag.
Syracuse is a city of growth, pioneering and intelligence. That is part of what is represented with the azure blue in the left triangle of the flag. The blue also symbolizes the waters of the Erie Canal and Onondaga Lake, both crucial natural features of the Syracuse area that helped raise this city.
VISIT A LOCATION THAT INSPIRED THE FLAG: The Erie Canal played a crucial role in the development of Syracuse as a city during the Industrial Revolution. Visit the Erie Canal Museum in downtown Syracuse to learn more about the history.
Navy is more than just the accent color for Syracuse University sports. The deep shade of blue represents the industriousness of the city of Syracuse. It represents the trust and loyalty of the citizens. And visually, navy blue is a nod to the colors of the hills of Onondaga.
VISIT A LOCATION THAT INSPIRED THE FLAG: To truly appreciate the hills of Onondaga, you have to climb some elevation. One of the best and easiest ways to do that is to go to the top of Thornden Park and take in the 360-degree views.
If you know Syracuse, you know this city is famous for snow. We don’t win the Golden Snowball Award regularly for no reason! But what we are also known for is salt. It’s one of the industries that put Syracuse on the map — and the reason Syracuse is famous for salt potatoes. The white also symbolizes peace, which I think is one of the most important. Syracuse is well known to be a sanctuary city, welcoming to all emigrants who need a safe place to call home.
VISIT A LOCATION THAT INSPIRED THE FLAG: If you’re looking for snow, well that is everywhere in Syracuse in the winter. But for salt, you have to visit the Salt Museum in Liverpool. There you can learn all about the history of the salt industry and how it shaped the history of this city.
The First Light Flag credo
In the words of Eric Hart:
Dawn’s first light pours over Syracuse, reflecting the hills and valley of Onondaga onto its gleaming lake.
Syracuse: “Where the vale of Onondaga meets the Eastern sky”.
We look toward the sun and offer appreciation to the Keepers of the Central Fire and the Six Nations, here since time immemorial.
We salute the sun’s strength and are grateful that it could pull salt from our springs. We feel the sun’s warmth and are filled with resolve to weather our long, white winters. We trace the sun’s arc across the sky and choose for ourselves a new, radiant path. Hearts energized, bodies warmed, minds steeled.
We propel ourselves together, ever upward, Syracusans.
The Syracuse flag is under common licensing
One of the most interesting facts about the new flag is that is under common licensing. Not only that, but the designer wants you to use it and make it your own! It’s important to Eric that the flag truly represents the community of Syracuse, and that means making its presence both known and adaptable to different individuals.
It’s not surprising that Eric had played with a few iterations of his own, but other community members are joining in. David Haas from Syracuse history incorporated the flag into his logo, and Instagram account @lezbein_syracuse uses the flag design but with the lesbian flag colors.
The easiest and best way to purchase a Syracuse city flag for yourself is directly from the designer himself — Eric sells them through his Hartbreakers website. There you will find full-size flags alongside apparel, stickers, pins, mugs, and other goodies bearing the First Light Flag design.
Use code “WANDERCUSE10” to get 10% a purchase of $15 or more from the Hartbreakers shop.
The are plans for more renditions of the flag in the future (ahem… perhaps a mural?) including other merch, so stay tuned!