Those cities are:
- Winnipeg, Canada
- Santiago, Chile
- Harbin, China
- Kuopio, Finland
- Tours, France
- Najaf, Iraq
- Ibaraki City, Japan
- Eldoret, Kenya
- Cuernavaca, Mexico
- Novosibirsk, Russia
- Bosaso, Somalia
- Uppsala, Sweden
Thousands of cities around the world are involved in such relationships under the auspices of Sister Cities International. Since its inception in 1956, Sister Cities International has worked to create global relationships based on cultural, educational, information and trade exchanges. We hosted the Sister Cities International annual convention in 2015.
Minneapolis has had a Sister Cities relationship with Harbin, China, since 1992, and the Mayor of Harbin officially invited us to attend the 35th Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. The event attracts millions of visitors from within China and from around the world. Their featured activities include the Central Street Happy Snow Festival. (Central Street is much like our Nicollet.) The primary snow and ice structures are on Sun Island in the Songhua River. In addition, the entire city is activated with snow and ice sculptures. Nearly 20,000 people take part in creating this celebration of winter. Our visiting group consisted of Meet Minneapolis and Minneapolis Downtown Council staff, Minneapolis City Council Members Kevin Reich and Steve Fletcher, as well as several community leaders.
Some of my key takeaways from this visit are:
Residents and visitors will embrace winter if there are exciting activities.
Much like Minneapolis, winter is not an excuse to stop approaching life with vigor. In fact, in Harbin, the residents thrive on being just as active in winter as they are in the summer. Sound familiar? And let me remind you that a major tenet of Tourism Master Plan is to nearly double our number winter of visitors.
The public and private sectors must be aligned in how winter is portrayed and marketed.
While the Harbin Municipal People’s Government invests heavily in the nearly two-month long event, the private sector embraces the opportunity to highlight the wintertime and, as such, the entire city is activated all day and night.
It is important to engage other winter cities to explore best practices.
A major part of Harbin’s activities during our visit was the interaction with officials from 23 of Harbin’s Sister Cities representing 15 countries. This was a unique opportunity to hear from cities such as Rovaniemi, Finland (the home of Santa Claus); Edmonton, Canada; Magdeburg, Germany; and many others on issues ranging from urban planning to infrastructure improvements to winter marketing.
We will keep you posted on the initiatives that emanate from this and from future Sister Cities activities.
For more on the 35th Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival: