Sister and Friendship Cities
The first Sister City Program, Sister Cities International, was created in 1956 at the request of President Eisenhower, giving national focus to affiliations between cities in the United States and in other countries. The goal of the program is to promote deeper cultural understanding, international visitation and hospitality that leads to long lasting relationships.
The City of Portsmouth is a member of Sister Cities International and has forged formal agreements with the following cities based on the interest and international connections of Portsmouth residents:
- Nichinan, Japan (1985)
- Parnu, Estonia (1990)
- East Antrim, Ireland (1992)
- Agadir, Morocco (1995)
- Severodvinsk, Russia (1995)
- Kitase, Ghana (2004)
Portsmouth also has other international relationships with cities through the Friendship Cities Program. This program is a way for the City to initiate relationships on a less formal municipal government basis than through an official Sister City relationship. Friendship Cities focus primarily on promotion of cultural and commercial ties. Portsmouth has Friendship City relationships with:
- Portsmouth, England
- Szolnok, Hungary
- Santarcangelo di Romagna (2019)
Administration and Status of Current International Relationships
The administration and conduit for Sister City communications and activities is through the offices of the Mayor and School Superintendent. Staff time to effectively maintain existing relationships is limited and often volunteers assist with activities.
Portsmouth’s most active Sister City relationship has been with Nichinan, Japan through educational, cultural, business and government exchanges. These activities are focused primarily on annual high school student exchanges as well as activities of the Japan American Society related to citizen diplomacy activities and the annual recognition of the 1905 signing of the Russo-Japanese Peace Treaty in Portsmouth. There has been limited engagement with Kitase, Ghana, Africa; Portsmouth, England; and Severodvinsk, Russia focused primarily on business, government and cultural exchanges. All other relationships have become more or less dormant.
From the success of past exchanges with its Sister Cities, Portsmouth recognizes the value of developing people-to-people contacts as a way to further international communication, diplomacy and cultural understanding. However, Portsmouth also recognizes that these relationships are effective only when interested residents/businesses work on a continuing basis with their international counterparts to promote opportunities for diplomacy, communication and understanding among people of different cultures.
Following inquiries from interested individuals to explore a new relationship with a city in France and others, the Mayor saw a need to evaluate the current Sister City and Friendship City relationships. To accomplish this, the Mayor and the City Council agreed at its May 1, 2017 meeting to establish a Mayor’s Sister Cities Blue Ribbon Committee consisting of five citizens who are representative of the business, cultural, government and international community.
The Committee was charged to:
- Evaluate the level of activity, benefit and local interest in continuing the Sister City or other citizen diplomacy relationships and make recommendations to the City Council.
- Research successful Sister City/Friendship City relationships of other cities and make recommendations to the City Council for a program and strategies to ensure success of existing and future Sister City relationships.
- Recommend a framework for long term administration, promotion and success of the Portsmouth Sister City Program through a Committee structure: chair, co-chairs, possible sub-committees for each Sister City, staff support requirements, etc.
- Explore ways to engage the community in the program – businesses, educational, cultural and humanitarian groups – and make recommendations to the City Council.
In October 2018, the Committee made its report to City Council, recommending:
Objective 1. Evaluate the level of activity, benefit and local interest in continuing the Sister City or other citizen diplomacy relationships. Leave dormant relationships in place.
Objective 2. Create a formal application process for establishing or reigniting existing Sister City or Friendship City connections and for proposing special citizen diplomacy projects; establish a clearinghouse for existing/active citizen diplomacy programs and projects to enhance awareness, generate interest, and encourage participation; and regularly update the Committee’s City of Portsmouth website page and Facebook group to raise awareness and encourage participation in citizen diplomacy events (maybe hold an annual event).
Objective 3. Create a framework for long term administration, promotion and success of the Portsmouth Sister City Program through a Committee structure: chair, co-chairs, possible subcommittees for each Sister City, staff support requirements, etc. Recommendation: Establish a formal ongoing city committee “Portsmouth Sister City/Citizen Diplomacy Committee.” Members serve for 2 or 3- year terms.
Objective 4. Explore interest in creating Sister/Friendship City relationships with the home cities of international businesses with a Portsmouth/Greater Portsmouth/Seacoast office. Also encourage individual diplomacy/cross cultural exchanges through community outreach to local groups.
On December 18, 2019, Mayor Blalock signed a Friendship City Agreement with his counterpart, Mayor Alice Parma of Santarcangelo di Romagna in Italy.