Los Angeles and Berlin celebrated their 40th anniversary as Sister Cities this year — sharing stories of mom and dad, high school hijinx, and the bet over who would be the first to get married. Berlin lost the bet, of course, when in 1989, it was joined with East Germany in matrimony under the powers invested in David Hasselhoff. There’s little that can come between these two siblings: they share everything from a cup of sugar to experiences in judicial practices to police and fire department practices.
I always cry at weddings. —Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail
Sister Cities (also called “Town Twinning”) are the work of Sister Cities International; an organization that pairs geographically and politically distinct cities together in the hopes that the two will work together on various projects and initiatives. It is a non-profit organization that began back in 1965, when President Dwight Eisenhower proposed a people-to-people, citizen diplomacy initiative. In the most basic terms, the program is like a pen-pal organization for cities.
How are Sister Cities determined? According to Sister Cities International’s information page:
“Communities find each other in a plethora of ways. Sometimes it is a top-down process, where two mayors meet then involve the rest of their community. Other times, it is a bottom-up process where a group or individual in the community, an educator, a businessperson, a service club or an ethnic association, takes the lead and organizes a sister city committee, then requests that their elected leaders form an official partnership. Some communities link because they share the same name or celebrate the same famous festival. Charming odd coincidences or chance meetings sometimes lead to a sister cities affiliation.”
The first city in North America to find a Sister City was Toledo, Ohio. In 1931, they met Toledo, Spain and instantly hit it off. Friends of the two cities never saw it coming. “A modern-day Felix and Oscar!,” said nearby Rossford. A documentary by Jacob David and Joel Washing, called Two Toledos, elaborates on the partnership.
Jacob David and Joel Washing film the documentary, “Two Toledos.” —From the Two Toledos’ production blog
Some cities have more than one Sister City. Somebody put a condom on the Washington monument! D.C. has 11 siblings including Paris, Athens, Beijing, Chongqing and Bangkok! The most impressive family since the Jacksons! All joking aside, Sister City projects do yield productive results. The cities of Denver and Nairobi, Kenya work together on educational and cross-cultural goals. Denver gives ongoing support to the Materi Girls School, and Nairobi families have hosted students of a Denver Youth Exchange Program. The two cities share some surprising similarities:
“Denver and Nairobi are both bustling modern capitols, with international air, diverse populations and nearby snow-topped peaks. Nairobi, like Denver, is situated on a high plateau with two of the highest peaks in Africa a relatively short distance away. Nairobi is an exciting and cosmopolitan city and, as the capitol of Kenya, serves as a center of commerce for all of East Africa. Like the Queen City of the Plains, Nairobi is a beautiful city and has often been referred to as the Jewel of Africa.” —from the Denver Sister City Program website.
Some of the more interesting couplings include Honolulu and Montreal, New Orleans and Caracas, Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, New York and Cairo, Cincinnati and Rome, Seattle and Reykjavik, Oklahoma City and Rio De Janeiro, Houston and Istanbul, Trenton and Moscow among thousands of others. Even smaller cities and towns are included in the project. Urban developers and city planners often look at Sister Cities as examples for growth. This practice is strongly encouraged within the European Union, where city officials often try to maintain a connection between cities they inspired (or colonized) around the globe.