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Chris Burgess

Thinking about future societies, living in the present. Humane web techno-generator for social change orgs. Believes in stories. Dunedin, NZ

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A year or two back, walking Dunedin and enjoying the details of our buildings, I started tuning into the the abandoned flagpoles that spike the skyline of our city. With our great stock of older architecture, we have a lot of flagpoles - and most of them are bare today.

My proposal to Dunedin City Council and the property owners of Dunedin is that we run flags up all those poles.

Right now, New Zealand is discussing the flag we’ll fly in the future, and Dunedin has an opportunity to highlight our city’s architecture and at the same time invite our citizens to engage more in discussions about the future of New Zealand’s flag.

Most New Zealanders have seen static representations of the various flags under discussion, in print or online. But flags aren’t static things, they twist and fold and hang and stand in the breeze, and they are seen against the sky - not on paper or screen.

Imagine if, a few weeks from the start of the referendum, every one of those flagpoles across our city had one of the six flags above flying from it. For the next several weeks, flags could swap places every few nights, giving people across the city the chance to see each of the new flags flying. Many would also notice their environment and surrounds anew.

During the second referendum, we’d repeat the process with the current and proposed flags.

People here would notice aspects of the city anew as their eyes were drawn to the sky. We’d build appreciation of the urban environment, which I think would benefit property owners. And over the summer tourism period it would be a stand-out feature of our city for visitors to notice.

By engaging people in the voting process in late 2015 (and early 2016), familiarity with postal voting would be boosted close to the local elections in late 2016. I think boosting postal vote turnout in the flag referendum could only benefit turnout in the local elections to follow.

What would it take to make this happen? I imagine getting the property owners of buildings across the city to see value in it, and a backer like the DCC supporting it by providing official backing, numerous flags and crew to keep the flags flying around the city. Probably some other ingredients too, but it seems within reach and worth trying.

Those bare poles have long had me toying with the idea of how an art project might repurpose the abandoned open spaces where the flags once flew through the city … I’d love to see our city skies come to life like that.

Image credits: Bad photoshoppery by yours truly, the middle four via Flag Consideration Project, current NZ flag via Four Corners Classroom, Red Peak via Evening Report NZ. No subliminal placement, only for my convenience.