As a “Parks and Recreation” episode guest-starring Fred Armisen once explored, sister cities aren’t always perfectly paired. But in the case of Boring, Oregon, and Dull, Scotland, the match was made, if not in heaven, at least in the mind of a very forward-thinking woman.
In 2012, Elizabeth Leighton, a native of Perthshire, Scotland, was cycling through Boring and immediately thought of Dull, Scotland, a village near her town, according to Condé Nast Traveler. She relayed her aha moment to the Boring powers that be — and shortly thereafter, a number of Boring residents voted unanimously to “extend the hand of Boring fellowship to Dull,” writes Ken Jennings for the magazine, having just a little too much fun. “Then they got to work on the ‘Boring and Dull’ T-shirts they hoped would boost tourism.
The Boring story is anything but dull (nod to Jennings), but it’s also a good reminder of the power of sister cities to cross-pollinate economic investment, foster tourism and serve as a relatively cheap marketing strategy.
As Nehemiah Rolle of the Roosevelt Institute wrote in a 2014 op-ed for Next City, the sister city model can help fuel urban economic development:
The sister city concept was born out of post-WWII development aid programs in which education and cultural relations between cities in Western Europe were used to solidify the peace and reconciliation efforts. In this same spirit, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created Sister Cities International, the national membership organization that facilitates sister city relationships between U.S. cities and foreign ones. These relationships over time have come to include trade and tourism between the partnered cities, but they can be the foundation for a greater economic engagement.
Take the Chicago-Mexico City trade agreement. In 2014, each was the top North American trading partner of the other, fostered, in part, because the Chicago metro is home to a large number of Mexican immigrants. Or the Bay Area’s partnership with Shanghai, which led to the expansion of several prominent Shanghai-based technology companies in San Francisco during the recession.
But as the Boring story shows, cities don’t need to be major urban metropolises to benefit from global partnerships. Those sweatshirts might just help foster tourism — and their cheeky pairing landed them in the pages of Condé Nast Traveler, which will no doubt help to put each on the global map.
And as Next City has covered, that’s not always an easy feat when you’re a small city with, say, no AP bureau in town. Your chamber of commerce can hire a marketing team to lure journalists on a press junket of your most exciting places, you can spend too much money on a new logo — or, you can pair Boring with Dull.
And according to the Condé Nast story, the sisters may soon be triplets. In Australia, there’s a nice little shire called Bland.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.