Sister Cities

As I was driving to work this morning, I got to listen to part of an interview between the radio station DJ and the assistant mayor of Bologna, Italy, who was in town for the Rose Festival, which Portland is holding this weekend. Although I have long lived in areas with sister cities (most cities have them, after all), this is the first time I have actually witnessed direct cooperation between them, or had a glimpse into the ceremonies and practical aspects of these particular forms of civic friendship. Given that this may be somewhat unfamiliar to others as well, I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about them somewhat.

Although the first examples of sister cities go back more than a thousand years [1], in the United States, it was not until after World War II that President Dwight Eisenhower proposed the sister city program as a way of forming bonds between cities of different countries as a citizen diplomacy initiative. It was one that was so successful that the initiative led to the founding of its own corporation (a sure sign of success in the United States) [2], and led to the proliferation of bonds between cities in an effort to further peace, understanding, and mutual business and cultural dealings. For those who are inclined to look at questions of rank, the status of a city can at least in part be determined by the quantity and status of its sister cities.

By that standard, the city of Portland is a city of moderate status, with a collegial group of ten cities (most of which have updated webpages showing their relationships [3]) that are made up of mostly second-tier cities in a variety of mostly developed countries. As might be expected, Portland has very formal rules about the establishment of sister cities, limiting them to one per nation and focusing on those cities that actually want to be our friends and have existing cultural, educational, business, or social ties [4]. At present, the ten sister cities of Portland are as follows: Sapporo (Japan), Guadalajara (Mexico), Ashkelon (Israel), Ulsan (South Korea), Suzhou (Jiangsu province of China), Khabarovsk (Russia), Kaohsiung (Taiwan), Mutare (Zimbabwe), Bologna (Italy), and Utrecht (Netherlands).

This is an intriguing group of cities. None of them are capital cities, for example. Many of them, in fact, are cities on the periphery of the country with quirky histories [5] that are not too dissimilar from the reputation for eccentricity that Portland enjoys. Most of these cities are at least of some size and importance within their nation, at least as regional cities of importance, and fairly represent the status of Portland as a regional city itself with a striking degree of friendliness to other cities. The fact that Portland has its sister cities deeply involved in our own festivals, and wishes to publicize that fact, is definitely noteworthy, given that the interrelationships of sister cities for the most part does not tend to be a very well-known matter among the citizens of most cities in my experience.

The website LinkedIn, which I update from time to time and use to keep in touch with various personal and professional associates, has a way of forming networks that is based on first, second, and third degree connections. In light of that, let us construct the two-degree network of Portland to see how it is embedded as a city within a network of ties between cities, and as a way of determining the place of Portland within the body of cities around the world, looking at the friends of friends to build this network up.

First Degree Friends (10):

Sapporo, Japan
Guadalajara, Mexico
Ashkelon, Israel
Ulsan, South Korea
Suzhou, Jiangsu, China
Khabarovsk, Russia
Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Mutare, Zimbabwe
Bologna, Italy
Utrecht, Netherlands

Second Degree Friends (it’s a lot):

Adana, Turkey
Aix-en-Provence, France
Alajuela, Costa Rica
Albuquerque, United States
Anchorage, Alaska
Antananarivo, Madagasscar
Arequipa, Peru
Atlanta, United States
Aviano, Italy
Ayabe, Japan
Baltimore, United States
Barranquilla, Columbia
Batangas, Philippines
Belize City, Belize
Berlin-Pankow, Germany
Blantyre, Malawi
Bourgoin-Jallieu, France
Brest, France
Brisbane, Australia
Brno, Czech Republic
Brownsville, United States
Bucheon, South Kkorea
Busan, South Korea
Caracas, Venezuela
Cartago, Costa Rica
Cebu, Philippines (twice)
Ceuta, Spain
Changchun, China
Chiba, Japan
Cigales, Spain
Cleveland, United States
Colorado Springs, United States
Compton, United States
Cote Saint-Luc, Canada
Coventry, United Kingdom
Curitiba, Brazil
Da Nang, Vietnam
Daejeon, South Korea (twice)
Dagupan, Philippines
Daisen, Japan
Downey, United States
Duarte, United States
Durban, South Afraica
Eiheiji, Japan
Entebbe, Uganda
Esbjerg, Denmark
Goiania, Brazil
Grenoble, France
Grootfontein, Namibia
Guadalajara, Spain
Haarlem, Netherlands
Hachoiji, Japan
Hagatña, Guam
Hagi, Japan
Harbin, China
Higashimurayama, Japan
Hirokawa, Japan
Honolulu, United States
Hualien, Taiwan
Hwaseong, South Korea
Ikeda, Japan
Iquique, Chile
Ismailia, Egypt
Jacksonville, United States
Jeonju, South Korea
Kameoka, Japan
Kanazawa, Japan
Kansas City, United States
Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam
Kharkiv, Ukraine
Kiev, Ukraine
Kingston, Jamaica
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Knoxville, United States
Kocaeli Province, Turkey
Konstanz, Germany
Krakow, Poland
Kutaisi, Georgia
Kyoto, Japan
La Plata, Argentina
Lansing, United States
Leipzig, Germany
Leon, Nicauragua
Lima, Peru
Little Rock, United States
Logan, Australia
Macon, United States
Magdalena de Kino, Mexico
Malabo, Equitorial Guinea
Marugame, Japan
Miami (Florida), United States
Milan, Italy
Mobile, United States
Montevideo, Uruguay
Mudanjiang, China
Munich, Germany
Nabari, Japan
Nago, Japan
Niigata, Japan
Nijmegen, Netherlands
Nochistlán, Mexico,
Novosibirsk, Russia
Nowy Sacz, Poland
Oñati, Spain
Panama City, Panama
Pekanbaru, Indonesia
Pensacola, United States
Plains (Georgia), United States
Portland, Australia
Porto Alegre, Brazil
Riesa, Germany
Riga, Latvia
Riihmaki, Finland
Rosolina, Italy
Rotorua, New Zealand
Sacramento, United States
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Saint-Louis, Senegal
San Antonio, United States (twice)
San Carlos, Nicauragua
San Jose, Costa Rica
San Salvador, El Salvador
Santa Lucija, Malta
Santiago del Estero, Argentina
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Santos, Brazil
Savyon, Israel
Seattle, United States
Sendai, Japan
Seville, Spain
Shenyang, China
Sopot, Poland
South El Monte, United States
St. Louis, United States (twice)
Surabaya, Indonesia
Surrey, Canada
Taebaek, South Korea
Tahara, Japan
Taupo, New Zealand
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Thessaloniki, Greece
Tomsk, Russia
Tottori, Japan
Toulouse, France
Townsville, Australia
Tulcea, Romania
Tulsa, United States
Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Uchinada, Japan
Valencia, Spain
Vani, Georgia
Venice, Italy
Victoria, Canada (twice)
Villeurbanne, France
Viña del Mar, Chile
Whittier, United States
Wroclaw, Poland
Wuxi, China
Xiamen, China
Xinyang, China
Yeongju, South Korea
Zagreb, Croatia
Zaporizhia, Ukraine

Third Degree: This looks a little bit too big to manage, so we’ll leave this task for others to accomplish, if they wish.

As might be imagined, this is an eclectic group of connections, spanning across all continents (except for Antarctica, which does not have any cities to sister with). Only a few of the cities share sister cities with each other, although these are somewhat noteworthy, including two American Cities (St. Louis and San Antonio), one Canadian city (Victoria), one Philippine city (Cebu), and one South Korean City (Daejeon). Some of the friend cities of Portland have a lot of friends (for example, Guadalajara and Sudzhou), and some have very few friends (Mutare). If one wants to look at Portland’s place as a friend to other cities, we are the moderately popular friends of some very popular cities, and one of the few friends of some relatively unpopular cities. This is not a bad place to be, especially for a city of rather middling rank within the United States as a whole. It is worth noting that the second largest city in the Portland metropolitan area, Vancouver, Washington, only has a couple of sister cities (Dubrovnik, Croatia and Joyo, Japan) [6], and the city I live in, Beaverton, has six sister cities I have never heard of (Gotenba, Japan, Hsinchu, Taiwan, Cheonan, South Korea, Birobidzhan, Russia, Trossingen, Germany, and Cluses, France) [7] that have smaller and somewhat tighter networks.

I suppose that as cities are made up of people, it is only to be expected that they would be like people in valuing company. People like having friends, as it is far nicer to share one’s celebrations with others and to seek opportunities for mutual growth and development. This is, after all, what we do for friends: spending time with them, enjoying their company, looking for mutual gains, encouraging in times of distress. Why should it be any different for cities, especially as cities are easily personified (as are nations, for the same reasons). Given the fact that cities and towns have local industries and cultures, it makes sense that they would want to find like minded cities in other places that have complementary interests and the interest in forming connections. Is that not what life is like for all of us, whether we are people, or larger abstractions of the people with them?



[3] See, for example:

The tenth city, Utrecht, Netherlands, has not yet finalized its relationship but is in the process of doing so, having set up a Portland-Utrecht Network on Facebook, for example.


[5] See, for example:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, International Relations, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sister Cities

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Passport To Freedom | Edge Induced Cohesion

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