Diversity is what the City of Rockville wanted to portray when officials decided to hang flags of the world on its light poles, but initial reaction to the flags created a diversity of another sort.
When shoppers mulling around Rockville Town Square recently were asked what they thought of the international display, a few said they hadn’t even noticed, and others thought the flags were regularly put up each year for Memorial Day. Only a few connected it with cultural diversity.
The City of Rockville currently is installing a total of 193 flags – the number of sovereign states in the United Nations – to show its commitment to diversity and inclusion. More than 150 are already decorating Rockville.
Each flag is paired with an American flag. The project, including the flags and installation, cost $21,748, said Marylou Berg, Rockville’s director of communication.
The idea came from residents during a Feb. 9 town hall meeting on diversity. Some in attendance thought the flags would demonstrate Rockville’s commitment to inclusivity and multiculturalism.
According to the U.S. Census, 35 percent of residents were foreign-born as of 2015. The website WalletHub ranked Rockville the ninth most culturally diverse city in the United States.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton. “The City had had up banners before, but they got all battered and torn up.” The new flags show that Rockville is “inclusive and respectful and that all people are welcome,” she said.
Three women waiting to cross the street in Rockville Town Square thought the flags were put up just for Memorial Day. When told they were permanent and represented diversity, Andrea Gardner of Olney said it was a “wonderful” idea. “Montgomery is made up of so many different nationalities,” she said.
“I think it looks nice. We’re for it,” added Nancy Greene of Bethesda.
Troy Knight, who was walking his two dogs, also thought the flags were put up for the Memorial Day weekend. He said he lived right up the street and had just noticed the flags that day.
Two Richard Montgomery High School freshman were excited when told about the flags.
“That was cool,” said Madeline, who asked that her last name not be used. “You find people that are not like you. You realize there is so much more,” she said, adding that the different flags made her want to learn to speak another language.
“Maybe the flags can start something,” Madeline said.
“Montgomery County is so diverse. I love it,” said her friend, Sophia, who also didn’t want her last name used.
But one woman, a Rockville resident who had just come from the Rockville Memorial Library with her young daughter, wasn’t quite as positive.
“I am kind of torn, honestly. I think there could have been a better way to show diversity,” said the woman, who didn’t want her name used.
“Maybe food, music or traditional dress. Flags are not necessarily political. They encompass so much,” she noted.
“I would prefer it to be about culture rather than nationhood. But, at the same time, flags are easy,” she said.
Berg said City officials has received “a lot of feedback.” Her favorite comment came from a person who searched for the flag from his native country and then took a photo of himself beneath the flag.