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Many Arlingtonians Withhold Seal of Approval for New Logo

By Annie Gowen
Sunday, October 24, 2004; Page C04

Depending on whom you ask, Arlington County's official new logo looks like a garbage can, a dirty sewer grate or, as the county puts it, "a distinctive and descriptive image of our community."

The county unveiled its new logo over the summer, part of a $190,000 redesign of its Web site. The new logo is supposed to be a hipper, fresher take on the official county seal, which is adorned with the graceful columns of Arlington House, the landmark home of Robert E. Lee.

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But many residents haven't seen it that way. The logo got a resounding thumbs-down from more than 80 percent of residents in an informal poll conducted by a local newspaper after its debut. A petition is being circulated calling for its removal. It has even inspired a piece of folk art by an artist, who rendered the new logo in dead cicada shells.

"There are people out there who are really unhappy with it and keep talking about it to me," said Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D), who dislikes the new logo, which he sardonically dubbed the "melting portico."

"With the Arlington seal, everybody recognizes immediately the portico of Arlington House. This is an attempt to pick on that same iconic image, but people either don't like it aesthetically or they think we are Nike-izing the county. Instead of the Nike swoosh, we have the 'smoosh.' "

The "smoosh" cost the county $39,000. And the overall $190,000 tab for the Web site redesign has been called excessive by a local taxpayers group and others. In contrast, the City of Alexandria recently had two members of its "e-government" staff redesign its Web site -- for free.

County officials say the logo was designed to unify the Web site and other materials and help "brand" the county. The county held several focus groups with community leaders and others before choosing the design this year. It was developed by the D.C. office of Gensler Studio 585.

At a recent County Board meeting, Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) -- who supports the new logo -- asked County Manager Ron Carlee to come up with guidelines for its use. Carlee said he just wants people to have "fun" with the playful new design.

But Zimmerman believes that it should not be used in the place of the official seal on documents or on county office buildings. "They're putting it on everything," he said, recalling his dismay when county workers scraped the official seal off the office doors and replaced it with the new logo. "I mean, we're not selling sneakers here. This is a government."

George D. Meek, 68, a retired journalist and poet who has lived in Arlington for 44 years, said the county didn't ask for enough public input when developing the design and recently launched a petition drive to retire it. He has collected more than 100 signatures.

He called the new logo an "abomination."

"It is ugly and pointless. . . . It's an insult for me to see it at every turn. I'm used to the prim and proper seal, which has pride in the county. The new seal doesn't give me any pride whatsoever," Meek said.

Meek vows a renewed campaign enlisting neighborhood groups to collect more signatures if Carlee's guidelines, expected in a few weeks, don't strictly curtail it.

"If they don't limit its use, we're going to be seeking wider support for a complete rollback" of the logo, Meek said. "It's going to be a long, hard fight now."

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