Beyond LFUCG: How Lexington could improve its brand?

March 2, 2013

I got a lot of response to last Sunday’s column. Many readers shared my dislike for Lexington’s clunky official name, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, and its even more awkward acronym, LFUCG.

And then there was the silly sounding State of the Merged Government address, the annual speech the mayor gives at a high-profile luncheon sponsored by the Lexington Forum, a civic discussion group.

Why not, I asked, just call it the State of the City speech?

Board members of the Lexington Forum agreed, and, before the day was out, they had voted unanimously by email to change the name.

“We just felt like the old name was passé,” said Winn Stephens, the Lexington Forum’s president. “It was time to think of us all as the City of Lexington. Nobody with any marketing or public relations savvy would come up with a moniker like LFUCG.”

A few readers said they worried that a “city” emphasis might somehow devalue Fayette County’s strong rural tradition.

But others doubted that would happen. Ask anyone from elsewhere what they think of when they think of Lexington and the first things they are likely to mention are horses and green pastures.

lexsealOther readers took aim at the city’s official seal. To refresh your memory, the seal is a circle surrounded by the words “Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Kentucky.” Inside the circle are four local symbols: a horse shoe; tobacco leaves; 1775, when Lexington was named for the recently fought first battle of the American Revolution; and Transylvania University’s Old Morrison hall, a symbol of Lexington’s education heritage and historic architecture.

As government seals go, it’s not bad. But, as an all-purpose logo or flag, it doesn’t do Lexington justice.

“Could we redo our city’s flag?” reader James Bright asked in an email. “The current flag seems to be a history lesson that must be read to be understood. Learning is good. I am a teacher after all. But it is way too busy.”

Bright noted other cities, such as Chicago and Cincinnati, that have more elegant and inspiring flags.

I have always liked the flag of Washington, D.C., with its three stars and two stripes taken from George Washington’s coat of arms, and the flags of Louisville and New Orleans, which feature the traditional French fleurs-de-lis.

Bright suggested a competition among local artists to design a new city flag. That could be a good place to start.

Open design competitions often produce better (and less expensive) results than hiring a company to develop ideas. We saw an example of that recently, when the Town Branch Commons design competition attracted some of the world’s top landscape architects and produced impressive results.

Whatever local symbolism is chosen for Lexington’s flag should be adaptable to other “logo” uses, as is done with the fleurs-de-lis in Louisville and New Orleans.

The Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau has gotten a lot of mileage out of the “blue horse” — the Pentagram design firm’s adaptation of Edward Troye’s 1868 portrait of the great stallion Lexington, rendered in Wildcat blue.

I think the blue horse is a brilliant symbol for promoting local tourism. But Lexington is more than a one-horse town. Despite the name Bluegrass and the popularity of University of Kentucky athletics, I see Lexington, with its lush farmland next to urban areas, as more of a green city than a blue city.

Image and marketing are important. They create a brand that both attracts outsiders and engenders pride among locals. Think about it: the guys behind the guerrilla “Kentucky Kicks Ass” promotional campaign have sold a lot of T-shirts.

Of course, Mayor Jim Gray and members of the Urban County Council have bigger issues to worry about, so this probably isn’t at the top of their agenda. There are pensions to fund, budgets to balance and water-quality problems to solve from all of that farmland converted into subdivisions over the years.

But it is good to put these sorts of ideas out for public discussion and debate. When we just leave it up to government, we can end up with things like, well, LFUCG.