Nutter Is On a Sister Cities Tour – But What Is a Sister City?

The addition of Frankfurt, Germany makes for eight Philadelphia sister cities in all.

This week, the Nutter administration announced that Philadelphia was adding Frankfurt, Germany to its list of sister cities. The mayor, along with Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann, signed the sister city agreement in the German city on Thursday. Before coming back home, Nutter will also be making a stop in Tel Aviv — another Philadelphia sister city — during his six-day trip. In all, Philadelphia claims eight sister cities. Frankfurt is the first addition to the list since 1992.

As Mayor Nutter put it yesterday, the sister city relationship is “primarily for the purpose of furthering the types of opportunity for business, for culture, for arts, student exchange, but also to look at direct foreign investment, [and] economic opportunities for businesses here in Philadelphia to expand their markets in Frankfurt and all throughout Germany.”

That’s pretty vague, but in fairness, the concept of a sister city is pretty vague. In fact, there’s plenty about the sister city program — which was created by President Eisenhower in 1956, by the way — that’s a little mushy and ill-defined.

Basically, sister cities communicate with each other through something called Citizen Diplomacy International Philadelphia, which is the organization responsible for facilitating Philadelphia’s sister cities program. CDI has a network of contacts in each sister city, making it easier for organizations to communicate with people in each city.

And what, exactly, is CDI coordinating? More than you might think. For instance, sometimes sister cities will swap citizens — typically business owners — for a short period of time. For instance, four clothing designers from Florence, Italy (another Philadelphia sister city) will be coming to town in October for Macy’s Philadelphia Collection Week, thanks to CDI Philadelphia. Another example is Philly law firm White and Williams’ “strategic partnership” with the China-based Winners Law Firm, located in the sister city of Tianjin. This alliance was arranged by CDI Philadelphia, utilizing their network of connections to bring the two firms together.

These sorts of business connections are the principal point of the sister cities program. In fact, the main reason Mayor Nutter is heading to Tel Aviv after Frankfurt is to charm a few Israeli companies who have committed to expanding their businesses in Philadelphia.

Usually sister cities share some similar economic characteristics. In theory, the relationship fosters businesses ties between the respective regions. For instance, some of Tel Aviv’s big industries are pharmaceuticals and life sciences, just as it is in Philadelphia. Another example would be Pittsburgh’s pairing with Sheffield, England, which also historically had a big steel industry. However, some partnerships are just for amusement, like Boring, Oregon’s partnership with Dull, Ireland (not a joke, that’s a real thing).

The cultural aspect of the partnership plays a role as well, though a smaller one. There are student exchange programs, like the one Lincoln and Swenson High Schools have with a school in Torun, Poland.

Here’s the current list of the Philadelphia’s other sister cities:

1. Florence, Italy

2. Tel Aviv, Israel

3. Torun, Poland

4. Tianjin, China

5. Incheon, South Korea

6. Douala, Cameroon

7. Nizhny Novgorod, Russia