Old's Cool, Newport.
Not a native.
"The world was all before them,
Where to choose their place of rest
And Providence their guide."
– Milton, Paradise Lost
I was born at Saint Anne's Hospital in Fall River in 1961 (the upside down year) and first moved to Newport on May 19th, 1981–the day after I resigned my commission in the U.S. Army–a half-twit zombie drowning in an impressive undertow of ignorance. With boundless creative urge and unique vision, I wanted to foist my beautiful genius upon an unsuspecting world. The key word in that last sentence is "wanted."
After living and working in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris and New York, and a tumbling, humbling 21-year stint as a stay-at-home dad, I've just moved back. I'm wondering if there's going to be any noticeable difference either in Newport or myself all these years and miles later. Um, doubtful.
Seriously, the Old's Cool crew and I would like to bring as much of our learned purpose and earned meaning as we can back to our adopted city, and help build a way better, more beautiful, and wicked-cooler community.
As we've said many times before, building a sense of citizenship and belonging is a ground-up operation, grassroots at the bottom, with daily social lubrications and points of shared pride at the heart of its success. "Hello" to passersby; petting dogs in the park; giving food (and socks!) to the homeless; buying local even when it's not convenient, or cheaper; rallying around a beloved and beautiful flag–in short, connecting with the like-minded and similarly-valued people in our neighborhood, and the wider world around us.
The State of Rhode Island is running a contest to redesign its license plate, and we think this is another perfect opportunity to promote our community writ a bit larger, with the same end goal in mind–simplicity, art, civic virtue and pride. There's a lot of opportunity for intentional beauty in the everyday if we just demand and reward it. A license plate is the perfect canvas to paint an understated masterpiece we want to exhibit to the world of our classic, historic state.
Same idea as our Newport Flag redesign (see below): navy blue represents the ocean, of course, and the Navy, a lifelong partner and integral to the success of RHODE ISLAND, the celebrated OCEAN STATE – both in white, symbolic of purity, and mirroring the colors of the state flag–original, but appropriate and representative.
Trade Century Gothic is an old-school typeface–elegant, art-deco-ish in sentiment, but condensed in elegant proportions to make a powerful, commanding statement, in bright white, against a magnificent midnight-blue background.
Understated, bold, memorable–the envy of all the other forty-nine.
We're planting our flag here.
Cities have a fantastic opportunity to encourage civic pride by turning their citizens into literal flag wavers, but the sad truth is most municipal banners are known as SOBs (Seals on a Bedsheet). Even though Newport’s flag is historically significant, it probably won’t delight any of the residents or tourists who don’t know its importance:
With that in mind, we thought we’d re-design the Newport flag to capture the inspired and inspiring spirit of the City by the Sea.
According to the Vexillological Society, there are a few rules for designing an authentic and memorable flag, and we thought we’d lay them out here as guidelines for everyone to understand, and judge by. First, a flag’s design must be simple–a six year old should be able to draw it from memory. Second, it should have meaning and appropriateness. Third, two or three colors, max. Fourth, no text or writing. Fifth, it should be original, and/or related to other flags or symbols associated with the city.
We thought a modified swallowtail burgee would be exactly right even though most flags are rectangular–since this distinguishing shape is associated with boating in general and yacht clubs in particular – perfect for Newport given its maritime heritage and exciting sailing culture. We chose navy blue for trust and truth (and the ocean) and white for light and purity–the same color scheme as the Rhode Island state flag.
The 5-pointed star is a nod to the Navy, a welcome long-time resident and partner in Newport’s growth and reputation, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
The smaller, superscript star multiplies the first star’s power exponentially, and visualizes perfectly the multitude of wonders and events that can be found in Newport. It's also a hat tip to the North Star, used by explorers for centuries to navigate, and the mariner at sea’s best friend.
We've sent a letter to Mayor Napolitano suggesting a contest for a Newport flag redesign, and we'll let you know when we hear anything.
Taking Newport back.
The vision is simple: to restore the heart and soul of the City of Newport by transforming it back into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community, an invaluable investment in the quality of life for both its residents and the tourists too.
And the easiest way to start is to turn the western half of America’s Cup Avenue, from Long Wharf to Thames Street into America’s Cup Park, with a bicycle path and grass running the whole length. Benches and bikes will invite everyone to slow down, and enjoy the beauty that is our unique and special city. The eastern half of America’s Cup Avenue will become a two-way street, not the unappealing 4-lane “stroad” that it is now, dividing and dangerous.
Queen Anne Square can be very easily extended across Thames Street to become a pedestrian walkway, and for a gazebo to be built, much like the one in King Park, which will become the center of the city’s activities, a “common,” the literal grandstand for our collective and important voices. Parades can finish here; Memorial Day speeches given, band concerts enjoyed, art exhibits and dance and theatrical performances welcomed.
The rest of the transformation of Newport from touristy and traffic to citizens and community will follow along naturally. The farmer’s market will enliven America’s Cup Park every weekend. Scheduled music at the gazebo will entertain and enrich. Visitors walking and biking around town will be not only accommodated, but encouraged. Residents will be inspired to shop locally, gathering together in the evening to people and sunset watch in the park(s), and everyone happily connecting instead of complaining about cars and always hopping in their own to come or go anywhere.
Phase two: extend the bike path north all the way to the roundabout along the railway, with a “Park and Cycle” for out of towners coming to visit. Free shuttle-bus (or let's bring back the old-school tram!) service. And then south along Memorial Boulevard to First Beach, with special bike parking areas located throughout the city.
In short, exactly the family-oriented and green environment, with the hometown convenience, ease, and pride Newport used to have a hundred years ago.
Fun and Games 101.
As designers (and dreamers) we believe that we have a responsibility to create objects and products that, no matter how trivial or seemingly mundane, are meaningful, unique and practical. And fun! We look at everything with a positive and discerning designer's eye–where can we make a beautiful difference?
It's true that there's nothing new under the sun, but rehash can sometimes be groundbreaking and breathtaking. One Up!, our wicked/smart word game is quick, addictive, cutthroat fun–where quick, cutthroat larceny is the name of the game. This will become (One Up!, not stealing), in our opinion, the smart aleck's new national pastime–Scrabble reborn for the 21st Century.
With the potential all around us to make a positive contribution to society, to beautify the boring, and make the real world a better, funner place, we were recently inspired to create this zip code bike rack–so simple, practical, and sculptural it's almost too obvious. We love this idea because it's easily implementable, inspires smiles everywhere, and shouts out our civic pride with a bit of wit that's gone postal, so-to-speak.
We see them sprinkled around town, promoting Newport's commitment to healthy living and a cleaner environment, and sponsored by local businesses and private citizens who want to make a positive contribution to our seaside haven. They are the perfect fundraising opportunity, with all proceeds going to support our various community needs.
We'd like to franchise this idea to all of the 17,563 towns and cities in America.
Art has the power to transcend the everyday, and to universalize the fun and the happiness that we might be feeling, as well as help all of us to overcome together the pain and suffering that’s in our lives. Unfortunately, most public art is decorative and static–which is a shame, because we think art, especially dynamic installations, are the perfect way to engage and empower people–and there’s almost no place to do that anymore in the real world.
Our idea is for a public art installation that replicates this tactile and personal focus on family, community and sharing, but on a larger scale. This time, we’d like to call it “I HE(ART)...” and in this case it would be “NEWPORT.” This simple slab of “chalkboard” concrete would be approximately 6’ high and 24’ long, and about 6” thick. We think Queen Anne Square would be the perfect place for it, since this beautiful public space is the spiritual center of Newport, visible and welcoming to everyone. We would have a chalk dispenser on site, and for $1 anyone can get a piece of chalk and leave their mark, literally, on the world.
The best part about this art piece is that it’s self-renewing, and evergreen: every time it rains the wall’ll be washed clean and the people, tourists and residents alike, can bring out the collective, inspired art in themselves once again.