What are Sister Cities?

What are Sister Cities?

Lewes, Delaware - The Overseas Escape-7

You’ve seen the signs but what do ‘Sister Cities’ really entail? I was curious so I read up on the 501(c)3 nonprofit and chatted with Zoe from the Sister Cities International DC headquarters further for details. Here’s what I found: 

Why are cities linked?

I’d always thought similar population and geography (like port or university cities) led cities to sister because they were, well, similar. I learned that there are so many other reasons for these partnerships. It could be as simple; mayors of the cities may have worked together on trade economic agreements and wanted to establish a formal partnership. Perhaps the cities are even named the similarly (like Boring, Oregon and Dull, Scotland). My favorite explanation? A local may marry a foreigner and wish to further link their lives by sistering their hometowns. Love, sigh.

When did it start?

The program began as an Eisenhower initiative in 1956 as a way to promote cultural exchange and bonds between communities worldwide. For the history lovers: You can watch footage from his White House Press Conference announcing the plan here, it amazes me that this is easily available for us to watch today. Yay, internet.

Aside from posting signs around town, what activities take place between sister cities?

At the beginning, Sister Cities shared arts and culture with one another, such as gifting public art. Later these relationships evolved to offer an educational exchange like study abroad programs or exchange trips, such as those that take place between residents of Rapid City, South Dakota and Nikko City, Japan. Today Sister Cities may also have formal trade relationships or coordinated humanitarian aid. Upon hearing of the Ebola outbreak in their sister city of Freeport, Sierre Leone, residents of New Haven, Connecticut, led by their Sister City chairwoman, raised over 100,000 in the matter of 12 weeks. How’s that for sisterhood?!

Sister Cities-1

Do Sister Cities have dues?

Surprisingly, yes. Dues are based upon the city or country population costing as little as $175 annually (for those with  <5k residents) or as much as $2,175 (exceeding 1M). 

Chicago has 28 sister cities, does this mean they are a (for lack of better word) sorority of sisters?

No, cities that have sistered are only connected with one another, not other cities.

How are new sisterhoods formed?

Interestingly, the Sister Cities International website offers a Match.com-like platform for cities seeking a sister (Versailles, France anyone?!). In order for Sister Cities to graduate from Friendship Cities to Sister Cities the highest ranking elected officials, usually the mayors, sign a memorandum of understanding establishing the sister city partnership. 

Infographic Sister Cities


(My gossipy question.) Have cities ever un-sistered?

No, though some cities have gone dormant and are therefore considered inactive. Sad.

Does your city have a sister? 

Check it out here

Read more about the topic: Sister Cities International Official Website11 Surprising Pairs of Sister Cities