As controversies go, the dust up over the City of Vancouver’s new logo continues a long tradition of turning seemingly inconsequential subjects here into mass protests.
Dubbed “Logogate” by some online, the decision to choose Gotham font face to represent our city on its letterhead, business cards and the sides of garbage trucks garnered a stronger negative reaction than the recent Trump tower grand opening, many times over.
The rage over the logo reminded me of another time the mayor’s office went into damage control mode — when the Waldorf Tiki Lounge closed in 2013. In that example, Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement to assure Vancouver’s creative community that council considered the city’s “dynamic arts and culture sector [as] a top priority.”
At my last count, nearly 200 names have wound up on an online letter signed by many people working in the city’s creative community. Add the numerous Facebook conversation threads and Twitter rage and you could probably fill a high school auditorium to the rafters with those angry about a wordmark meant to represent our city to the world.
This is not to take too lightly city staff’s effort to push through something so uninspired. What really seemed to twig the city’s style conscious creative community the most is that the logo was identical to that of the City of Chilliwack.
The city’s previous logo, according to my information, was created in-house by a staff person. At that time, the decision to refresh the city’s corporate identity was as a result of the 2010 Winter Games coming. With so many visitors soon arriving and the city about to go on the world stage, the logo needed a refresh.
Someone thought that using a stylized lotus — as in Lotusland — was the right image for Vancouver to project to the world. At the time, the new logo did not stir any controversy.
The pushback to the pushback over the logo came almost immediately. We have hundreds dying from fentanyl poisoning, thousands are homeless, and you are upset about a logo?
While those criticisms do put Logogate into context, we shouldn’t shrug off some legitimate concerns from some of our city’s savvy creative set. The logo (or more accurately, wordmark) a city uses to identify itself sends important information about who we are as a society.
For all the talk about making the arts “a top priority,” it is hard to see how the city has made it such. What about Vancouver’s urban fabric today can be said to demonstrate the rituals and culture that define us?
Personally, I admire the fact we are a city that is growing, including through the heights of our buildings in our urban centres. Yet, so much of what we are constructing is as uninspired as Vancouver’s new wordmark.
For example, the row of glass buildings along Vancouver’s Second Avenue — the south face of the Olympic Village — which feels oddly cold to me. I wonder what we will think about these structures 20, or even 10 years from now.
In cities such as Los Angeles, I am led to understand that a developer will be rewarded for excellence in design, or the use of quality building materials. By contrast, in Vancouver, the long, painstaking process of getting building permits approved is stifling creativity in urban design.
There are some exceptions — Westbank’s Vancouver House and new Kengo Kuma-designed building on Alberni Street are noteworthy in how they add to their surroundings, and avoid the bizarre protuberances of other new structures.
If Vancouver’s growing creative sector is going to have an art attack over a logo, perhaps as a community they can put their mind to what our streets and surroundings could look like.
Logogate might look like a tempest in a teapot to some, or to others a signal that the well of ideas from this council has run dry.
The fracas over a font face could be, instead, the catalyst for an important conversation about what we want our city to project to the world.
Originally published in Vancouver Courier newspaper
Courier editor’s note: On February 28 Mayor Gregor Robertson issued the following statement: “I have asked the City Manager not to put the wordmark on any permanent City assets while we engage with the design community and public in looking at ongoing improvements to the City brand. I have also asked Johnathon Strebly, the BC Chapter President and National President of the Graphic Designers of Canada, to convene a discussion with local design stakeholders for me in the coming weeks to have a conversation not just about the City’s wordmark as we accelerate the evolution of our brand in the months ahead, but also how City Hall can better support Vancouver’s design industry.”