U.S. cıtıes have been reaching across international borders for more than 60 years, since President Dwight D. Eisenhower first launched Sister Cities International. A nonpartisan nonprofit, the organization counts more than 500 U.S. cities, counties and states as members and organizes roughly 2,300 partnerships in 150 countries on six continents. Eisenhower envisioned the nonprofit would foster bonds between people from different communities, bringing understanding, appreciation and a celebration of differences while building partnerships that would lessen chances of new conflicts. The organization in particular focuses on programming classified in four main areas: youth and education, arts and culture, business and trade and finally municipal exchange and community development.
For many cities, relationships formed through Sister Cities International have proven very beneficial. For example, Minneapolis, Minn., is taking notes from its sister city Harbin, also called the “City of Ice,” in China on winter tourism. Harbin holds an annual Harbin Ice Festival that attracts more than 10 million visitors each year, and Minneapolis is hoping to adapt some of its practices while expanding already existing practices at home, according to Sister Cities International’s website.
Other cities have used programming to spread goodwill. Such is the case for Atlanta, Ga., which sends volunteers to its sister city Montego Bay, Jamaica, to off er medical treatment to those in need.
A sister city, county or state relationship becomes official after the highest elected or appointed official from both communities sign off on an agreement; however, these relationships may start in a variety of ways, sometimes through ordinary citizens as was the case for Gordonsville, Va., a town of more than 1,500.
Deborah S. Kendall, town manager of Gordonsville, explained, “We have a local property owner who is from France, and as I recall, our relationship with Thore-la-Rochette began as the result of her points of contact in that town.”
That relationship, formed in 2013, is still very new, with Kendall stating, “Unfortunately, there have been no coordinated efforts to engage with our sister city since the relationship was first established in the fall of 2013. We are proud of having established ties with Thore-la-Rochette; however, neither they or we have reached out to take our relationship beyond its initial establishment.” She added, “On our side, this is a combination of getting busy with some big projects in town and also just not having a good idea of what kinds of activities we can undertake to make the best of our participation in the program.”
As for a city of 1,229 in Iowa, a founder’s choice in city names played a vital role in cementing its eventual sister city relationship.
For information on Sister Cities International or to find cities seeking cities, visit www.sister-cities.org.