Wednesday, February 12, 2014

12: THIS IS COLUMBUS.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, Columbus won out, as state capital, by only one vote over Lancaster, and ever since then has had the hallucination that it is being followed, a curious municipal state of mind which affects, in some way or other, all those who live there. Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen and in which almost everything has.

-James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times, chapter five, "More Alarms at Night"
from James Thurber: Writings & Drawings, page 169.


That is true. Every word of it. That was published in 1933 and nothing written since better describes our big little city.

I mean to talk up James Thurber later in this 28 in 28 project, so I won't say much about him in today's post, other than to say he and Kurt Vonnegut were and are, in my opinion (for what that's worth), the two greatest American humor writers (sorry Mark Twain) and two of the 10 best American writers, period. Considering my recent penchant for proclaiming greatest this and greatest that, you'll please excuse my biases, but whatever. I'm right.

Columbus is indeed a municipality that believes it's being followed, and, in a sense, it is. We seem to be a town where people from larger, more blustery, more bombastic cities inevitably think we're years behind them in every way imaginable, and, therefore, they deserve the things that we have that they don't have. Think about that for a second. Or better yet, don't. It's not worth it.

It's better to politely let those people go on about their cosmopolitan major-league metropolises, all the while knowing what James Thurber wrote in 1933—that "Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen and in which almost everything has"—is true.

We're not the only quirky town around. There are lots of cities with unique character—even Orlando. Local quirkiness is often a marketable selling point for a city. Austin, Texas, for instance, is an off-beat town, and in order to celebrate their definitive weirdness, they coined the phrase "Keep Austin Weird" around 2000. "Keep Austin Weird" became so popular that, of course, someone just had to make money on it, and thus the inevitable trademark claim by someone who didn't create it and subsequent fight over who "owned" it. Portland, Oregon—in an atypical display of hipster mimicry—did the most un-weird thing weirds do, and weirdly copied Austin's weirdness, insisting that Portlanders "Keep Portland Weird," too. Maybe that's one of the things that confuses people about Columbus. We haven't had a campaign to demand of ourselves that we be weird. How weird can we be if Columbus can't even brand its weirdness in a time when weird cities are normal? Weird.

Anyway, Columbus doesn't have many widely recognizable symbols that people see and immediately think "Hey, Columbus, Ohio." The city has at various times over the decades sought one out, going as far as rallying around an awesome grass-roots movement to build a mountain. Jackie Mantey wrote a terrific article in Columbus Alive last month that examined our past identity quests (a must-read). I'm of the opinion that, for the city, it's rather a good thing that it's indefinable by a trademark-able symbol or slogan. It's better to be indefinite if creativity, openness, and progress are what drives you. Once the seals start sealing, the marks start marking, and the capsules start encapsulating, we lose one of the core qualities that makes this place special—it's irrepressible, perpetual re-creation and unveiling of itself.

In that way, paradoxically, the city is sort of its own symbol. We live in it. It's a real place that's also kind of not real, which I think is the way that a massive city with a massive university at its core inevitably must be. Columbus retains the feel of an academic campus, but on every block there's the reality of a massive city, with its consequential struggles, and consequential achievements that are as real as life and death. Some might interpret what I'm saying to mean that ours is a city with a split personality or an identity crisis; on the contrary, ours is a city with a growth personality and a identity inquisitivenessor even an identity indulgence. Such a city is a culmination of hundreds of thousands of individual citizens discovering who they are and how they relate—growing, learning, becoming better, being new, indefinable, and open. Being Massive.

When I started getting into this project, I looked around for what was available to us in terms of civic emblems that we could adapt into a Columbus Crew crest. Columbus, like I suppose every other city in the world, has an official civic seal, and it's been used by Crew supporters before. One day in April 2012 I was standing in the Crew Stadium parking lot before a match and I looked down saw this.


It was just a utility cover placed there in 2010, according to the date below the shield, like other utility covers all around the city. It occurred to me that this was as close to Crew Stadium as I'd ever noticed the Columbus seal. I liked the way the grass and clover surrounded the cover, so I took a picture and posted it on Instagram or Pinterest or someplace, but it didn't occur to me at the time that the city seal would make a good subject for a banner. Thankfully, someone else did.

For years, Rick Thomas has set the standard for tifo and supporter's culture in this city. He's produced banners, signs, two-sticks, tifo of dozens of sizes, shapes, and themes. He has lead the way as a supporter and artist, and his work has been invaluable to Columbus, the Crew, and soccer culture in this nation.

In the summer of 2012, he created this: an enormous flag, hand-sewn and hand-painted, with the seal of the City of Columbus. It's a massive flag in every way that we mean that. It stood out and clearly raised the bar for tifo in Columbus. It's really a piece of art. Since then, the image he painted onto that flag has been adapted, imitated, reproduced, sold on shirts and various other Columbus Crew items, even tattooed, but it was a hard-working artist and Crew supporter who had the vision to bring the Seal of the City of Columbus into Crew Stadium and Columbus supporter culture. He made it happen because while great ideas belong to all of us once they're made real, it takes a visionary to show us the way.

We have so many people who are making amazing things, and we can and will do much more. Like the tifo displays that we do in Crew Stadium, our city is a vision that is always unfolding. Be happy that we are a city of visionaries who can see it and workers who can make it. Be proud that This Is Columbus.



Because the Columbus seal has already been used in ideas for crest designs that I've seen around and in other things as well, I thought that I would offer a more stylized version. Streamlined in some regards, changed entirely in other aspects, with some additions here and there. I removed the eagle because it's too close to this, which is not great, and this, which is worse. I kept the Blackletter, Olde English-style font from the seal and replaced the Christopher Columbus ship with the "96" which I think is important to have on the badge. The laurel leaves are nice, and not unusual in famous soccer badges, so I kept them, and I placed the 16 stars from the seal in the open field on the shield, with the 17th being the star above the crest. I think this looks like a classic soccer badge now, somewhat reminiscent of Uruguayan club Penarol, rather than a city coat of arms, or seal.

2 comments:

  1. I almost want you to stop as I like so many of them. The accompanying essays have been wonderful to read too.

    This one is tremendous.

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  2. This is quite a tour de force of civic pride and imagination. I'm quite enjoying it.

    "Keep Columbus Real" seems like a worthy slogan but invites labeling people as fakers. So let's keep doing without.

    You referenced the German connection a few times. I noticed that the Dresden Dynamo home kits are black and gold. Their shield is nothing special. But I would like to see the Crew exploit the soccer possibilities with our Sister City relationships with Dresden and Genoa. Playing friendlies with their top teams would invite broader community interest if it is wrapped in a larger cultural exchange between cities.

    Looking forward to the next two weeks worth of designs and history.

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