Pittsburgh brings the family back together.
Twin cities are nothing new to Pennsylvania, but Pittsburgh’s renewed quest for international partnerships is helping the city reinvigorate relationships with its siblings around the world.
In 2017, Mayor Bill Peduto decided to revitalize the twinning program to reflect the city’s focus on political and cultural collaboration. Over the next several years, the Sister Cities Association of Pittsburgh was formed, and in May 2020, Kathy Risko became the organization’s first executive director.
“Pittsburgh typically has 20 twin cities, but of those 20 only six are currently active,” Risko told City & State. “Part of it is by design right now, in the sense that we don’t have the capacity to revive all of these relationships.”
The city of Pittsburgh has twinning relationships that date back to 1956. As Risko mentioned, it has twinned 20+ cities from Nicaragua to China and everywhere in between. It currently has active relations with Da Nang, Vietnam; Saitama City, Japan; Wuhan, China; Sofia, Bulgaria; Bilbao, Spain; and most recently Glasgow, Scotland.
Pittsburgh and Glasgow have been partners in finding solutions related to guaranteed income, climate protection and more. The town twinning focuses on the goals of the United Nations for sustainable development. The two announced their relationship last November, and just before the one-year anniversary, a delegation led by Peduto and Risko will attend COP26, the UN climate change conference, where they will renew their commitment to economic, social and environmental priorities become justice.
“We are piloting a universal basic income program in Pittsburgh and Glasgow,” said Risko. “We work together and try to learn from each other how the rollout works and how we can improve it.”
Sister Cities International began in 1956 under the Eisenhower administration with the hope that US cities would promote understanding and peace between countries after World War II. More than 60 years later, the program continues to operate in numerous US cities, organizing educational and cultural exchange programs. Risko noted that previous relationships focused only on these cultural, educational and economic exchanges, but that they are now shifting some of the focus to political exchanges.
A by-product of this is Pittsburgh’s latest partnership with Dortmund, Germany. Although the two are not twin cities, last summer they were selected as partner participants in the International Urban and Regional Cooperation Program, which aims to develop localized strategies related to food systems, urban gardens and sustainable agriculture.
“Almost all issues relating to equity and sustainability happen worldwide, but are most effectively addressed through policies and programs on a local, community basis,” Peduto said after the announcement. “The renewed partnership with Dortmund will enable us to share and identify sustainable, long-term solutions for urban challenges. We have a lot to share and a lot to learn to tackle the resilience of local food systems. ”
Pittsburgh is not alone in the twinning program. It’s just one of a dozen Commonwealth cities with international partners, including Philadelphia and Erie. However, Steel City stands out for its newfound commitment to solving future problems and leveraging new relationships to solve them.
Sister Cities Pittsburgh is due to host an international medical symposium this fall in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, but the event is on hold due to concerns about COVID-19 and international travel. The symposium was designed to bring medical experts from around the world to the city to discuss the latest innovations and research related to vaccine development, oncology, genetics, and more.
Risko said these partnerships are beneficial for both exchanging ideas and forging long-term relationships. As cities around the world grapple with issues such as climate change, food security, and modern economic development, these partnerships create a clear path for ideas to be exchanged.
“One of the main goals of this program is to create this larger international collaboration. Town twinning is not their goals, but at the same time they help facilitate this type of exchange that could lead to town twinning, ”said Risko.