Since the Middle Ages, towns and cities have been identified with official emblems put together from the elements of heraldry: shields, crosses, stars, lions, dragons, birds, and other battlefield symbols. Armies and warriors would carry flags and shields emblazoned with the emblems of the places they held close to their hearts.
In the last few decades, even those cities that have an official emblem have found them shunted aside by marketing professionals who have designed logos and slogans to prepare them for a different kind of battle, of the economic kind. The colors, fonts and messages of a city's official logo present the image that local boosters want to send to the world, especially to business and tourists. But sometimes the results are not what city officials have intended.
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The New Yorker
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Excerpt: " City emblems can be traced to twelfth-century Europe, D’Arcy Boulton, a professor of medieval studies at the University of Notre Dame, told me. This period saw the development of heraldry, a profession that oversees the creation and regulation of coats of arms, which were displayed on the flags and shields of nobles to distinguish themselves from their opponents during chivalric competitions and on the battlefield. Much as an N.B.A. player wears a jersey on the basketball court, the practice was one part pragmatism, one part pageantry. Over the next hundred years or so, guilds, churches, and towns, which had been using monochromatic seals as their mark of authority, began adopting their own coats of arms. Think of London’s white shield with a red cross flanked by two dragons. The emblems sometimes meant different things to different people. Still, coats of arms were a useful way of identifying various groups at a time when the peasantry was largely illiterate, relying on the Church’s stained-glass images to teach them theology.
In recent decades, heraldry has been losing ground to modern graphics, as cities borrow from the logos of the corporate world. While many cities still have a coat of arms—Toronto’s, for example, displays a blue 'T' on a yellow shield held upright by a beaver and bear—councils have largely let them fall by the wayside, especially as more cities have turned to a relatively new trend called destination branding, which aims to package cities, regions, and countries as marketable products to lure potential tourists and investors.
'Heraldists like myself have a deep dislike of institutions that abandon their coat of arms in favor of a logo,' Boulton said, about the recent shift. 'While we don’t mind logos, we tend to feel that the traditional forms are more dignified and have a certain character that would be sad to lose. There is also a beauty in the design of arms, partially because of the rules that constrain the combinations of colors, figures, and spacing to make the design as clear and recognizable as possible, even from a distance.'
Perhaps the most famous modern city logo is the iconic 'I ♥ NY' emblem, created in 1977 by the graphic designer Milton Glaser on behalf of New York State. With New York City having nearly filed for bankruptcy two years earlier, the logo was part of a strategy to revive both the state and the city’s image and, in turn, their economies, according to Miriam Greenberg, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the author of 'Branding New York: How a City in Crisis Was Sold to the World.' The juxtaposition of stark letters with a soft heart captured both the toughness and vulnerability people loved about New York City, she said—and their deep affection for a place on the verge of collapse. 'It is possible for an artist or designer to tap into the zeitgeist and create an image that resonates at a particular moment,' Greenberg said, 'but they have to be knowledgeable about what the underlying fears and issues are.' A new logo probably won’t transform a city, in other words, unless it’s part of a package of initiatives to address a city’s challenges."