Monday, March 21, 2005

Sister City status not square well with Sister Region in this reporting

The sister city concept works well with other cities -- not with an Indonesia district.

Doctor wants to set up sister city -

I am all in favor of the moves of Pittsburgh to double or even triple its sister city programs. But, sister cities should not be established with places that are not cities. Common ground seems to be absent. Pittsburgh and Nagan Raya, a 30-by-50-mile district in Aceh, are not similar -- like sisters -- with two exceptions.

To begin, the Shadyside doctor, Ali, from the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh makes a vibrant and true connection. He's one guy. Brave, helpful, hopeful, talented and giving as he is -- its a one person connection. A three person connection, as the article listed others, could be made. I'm sure, another hundred beyond these three could be located. Personal connections are great. But they don't make a sister-city status.

The other connection between Pittsburgh and Aceh (Nagan Raya), is the loss of a population. In Aceh, "more than 300,000 people are dead or missing from a total population of 4 million. Another 500,000 are displaced from their homes." The city of Pittsburgh has lost about 300,000, but in a trickle, not a single event. Pittsburgh's population is half of its former self. The displaced Pittsburgh population seems to make the two regions somewhat equal. The total number of displaced Pittsburghers is similar, sad, grief causing -- but its a stretch.

One can't minimize or trivialize the hardships of the tsunami, nor that of the city's outward migration. But as common ground, those are fleeting examples. That's the best there is.

Speaking of sisters, my sister, Mary Lee, and her husband, Phil, both doctors, went to remote Pacific Islands to live and work in humanitarian efforts. They delivered medical skills to some hard situations for a couple of years of service. I'm proud of their work. They too forged friendships that live to this day from those experiences. Wonderful. But, let's not claim those locations as sister cities either.

Same too for southwestern China's, Chengdu. Chengdu is a city at least. Our Pittsburgh connection runs to Chengdu via our family. My wife teaches a course there. That city has a huge medical center -- and others from Pittsburgh have been there too. But Chengdu exceeds 10-million people. The sisterhood elements are slim as well. Furthermore, Pittsburgh has a sister city in China, a steel town no less.

Sister city links make great relationship building experiences. Pittsburgh can do much, much more in these effort. But, the relationship needs to be based upon serious common ground.

Let's help out in Nagan Raya. Let's do what we can for the world and ourselves. Let's do more with our existing sister cities. Let's not be loose with the designation and make what is nearly meaningless really meaningless.

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