Sister Cities and Globalization

Notions of “globalization,” “multiculturalism,” and “cities as nodes of relationships” are best exemplified by the concept of “sister cities relations” that many communities have established with others abroad. Such relationships between cities are formed to promote mutual cultural understanding, build global cooperation, and encourage economic development.

According to Sister Cities International, a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that creates and facilitates relations between the United States and communities abroad, there currently exists over 2,000 international partnerships in 136 countries on 6 continents. Among these partnerships, the number of sister city relations that exist between the United States and Japan is the greatest in the world. With over 400 sister cities, no other two countries in the world are interlocked as deeply as the U.S. and Japan.

The sister city relationship between my hometown of Chicago (U.S.) and my mother’s hometown of Osaka City, which has been continuing since 1973, has hosted and offered a myriad of events and connections that has brought and will continue to bring the citizens of both cities closer together. The Sister School Exchange program that was established in 2006 between Osaka City Senior H.S. and Chicago’s Walter Payton College Prep H.S. has provided opportunities each year to students of these schools to fly and visit their sister schools abroad; political, economic, and cultural ties are created between the two communities vis-à-vis the student exchanges. This past September, ten social service delegates from Chicago met with professionals in Osaka as part of the “Japan Social Service Exchange Program” to discuss matters of social welfare, encompassing topics ranging from the creation of a barrier-free (concerning both mental and physical-related disabilities) society to the development of policies that promote human potential and functioning, all the while overcoming cultural divisions. Just this year, the two cities newly created a “sister marathon relationship,” where the local Japanese community of Chicago supported Japanese runners in the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in the “Japan Cheering section” this past October. The frequent presentations and showcases about each city often organized by the partner city’s tourism organization or the consulate encourage tourism and the physical exchange of people and capita between the two sister cities.

By being exposed to America through a lens that is “Chicago,” Osaka first and foremost was able to establish a foundation of long-lasting relations with the city and country. Such foundations became essential in the creation of various gateways that Osaka utilizes to access new business markets, product lines, knowledge, and technology. Simply put, enhancing mutual cultural understanding and relations in the short term can promote commercial exchange in the long run.

With over 2,000 international partnerships (and counting.. Chicago has been forming new sister city relations at a rate of one every other year) directly connecting global cities together, the possibility of every single city, town, and village in the world sharing sister city ties with another community abroad may be unsurprisingly high in the foreseeable future. In 2005, Gilbert, Arkansas, a community with a population of 28, paired with Isle of Man (British Islands) as a sister city. A constantly expanding “global web” encompassing cities that catalyzes the exchange of ideas and commerce, paired with the ever-evolving potential of technology and the internet, may be “globalizing” our world faster than we think.

by Kenji Tran

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