The Mitten is a diverse state with thousands of residents coming from different countries and adding their cultures and traditions to Michigan’s rich history.
Sister cities in Michigan also do much to add to that tradition. In fact, more than 50 cities in Michigan have at least one sister city. Some of Michigan’s bigger cities — like Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Detroit — have at least half a dozen.
These partnerships allow officials, students, and residents to travel to their sister cities, learn about their cultures, share business ideas, celebrate festivals and milestones, and much more.
Since the United States officially began sister-city partnerships, many cities in Michigan jumped at the chance to participate right away and formed lasting bonds with their twin towns.
What Exactly Is a Sister City?
A sister city, which is also known as a twin town, is a social or legal agreement between two locations to promote commercial and cultural ties in both places.
While the idea of a sister city traces its origins back several centuries, the concept of the modern sister city was created and established during World War II as a way to unify allied countries.
One of the earliest examples was a link of camaraderie between the English city of Coventry and the Russian city of Stalingrad after both cities experienced hardships during the war.
After the Battle of Stalingrad — which lasted from Aug. 23, 1942, to February 1943 and saw more than 1 million Russian casualties — hundreds of women in Coventry had their names embroidered on a tablecloth along with a simple message of support and a donation of money.
The oldest sister city in the United States is Toledo Ohio, which shares a partnership with Toledo Spain that dates back to 1931.
Sister city pairs can pop up all over the world, and a few of the more interesting ones in the US include Nikko City Japan and Rapid City South Dakota, Dull Scotland and Boring Oregon, and Boulder Colorado and Yateras Cuba.
How Do Cities Become Sister Cities?
In the United States, sister cities pair up for several reasons. Generally, the two cities are similar in size and have similar demographics. They may also establish a connection through shared history, business connections, travel, or similar industries.
EXAMPLES: Monza Italy and Indianapolis Indiana are sister cities because of their association with auto racing. Portland Oregon and Bologna Italy are sister cities (in part) because of their similar attitudes toward food.
President Dwight Eisenhower established the twin-towns program in 1956 through a citizen diplomacy initiative. Part of that initiative included the creation of Sister Cities International (SCI). The goal of this nonprofit is to strengthen partnerships between countries, especially through the creation of sister cities.
As of 2019, SCI has established 1,800 partnerships in more than 135 countries.
Explore These Sisters Cities in Michigan
A2 has not one, but seven sister cities spanning the globe. Ann Arbor’s twin towns include:
- Belize City Belize
- Tuebingen Germany
- Peterborough Canada
- Remedios Cuba
- Hikone Japan
- Dakar Senegal
- Juigalpa Nicaragua
According to some sources, Ann Arbor’s relations with some of its sister cities are either scarce or non-existent. But two relationships, those with Hikone and Tuebingen, have remained strong.
Many Ann Arbor residents can trace their lineage back to Southern Germany, and the two cities paired up in 1965. Through the years, visitors from both cities were hosted by one another, especially students from both countries who visited during their school breaks.
Ann Arbor’s relationship with Hikone dates back to 1969. One of the first visits to Hikone involved the Musical Youth International band and choir, which included several local officials. That was later followed by middle school student exchanges between the two cities.
The Motor City also claims seven partnerships with sister cities, including:
- Chongqing China
- Dubai United Arab Emirates
- Kitwe Zambia
- Nassau Bahamas
- Toyota Japan
- Turin Italy
- Minsk Belarus
Detroit’s relationship with Toyota Japan dates back to 1960 with both towns being “motor cities.” For decades, the relationship between the two cities has been very active. In addition to a student exchange program, the pair have exchanged animals, plant life, and much more to build strong ties.
Michigan’s Vehicle City has four sister cities:
- Hamilton Canada
- Changchun China
- Poltava Ukraine
- Tolyatti Russia
The partnership with Poltava is the newest one for Flint, having come together in the last 15 years. It came together in part because the president of Sister Cities of Flint traveled Europe looking for partnerships and eventually met his wife in Poltava.
In 2019, the University of Michigan-Flint announced the creation of scholarships available to students from all four Flint Michigan sister cities, strengthening Flint’s commitment to education and international relations.
Hamilton, Flint’s Canadian sister city, offered to help Flint during the height of the Flint Water Crisis. Youths from the two towns have also competed against one another in the CANUSA Games for decades.
Tolyatti has a kinship with Flint as an automobile producer and created a joint venture with then-General Motors in the early 2000s to produce Chevrolet vehicles.
Grand Rapids also has a whopping seven sister cities, including:
- Zapopan Mexico
- Perugia Italy
- Omihachiman Japan
- Gangnam (Seoul) South Korea
- Bielsko-Biala Poland
- Ga East and Ga West districts in Ghana
The Biesko-Biala region of Poland is known as one of the most attractive parts of the country and is a sort of cultural hub known for great outdoor recreation, enterprise, and excellent beer — just like Grand Rapids.
The Ga District celebrates its long and varied history through song, dance, and many festivals. The festivals feature lots of culture, handmade goods, and delicious foods — just like the many celebrations in Grand Rapids.
Gangnam in South Korea is a thriving city and a center of arts and culture — something that Grand Rapids knows a little something about — and is home to numerous attractions and festivals.
Omihachiman is Grand Rapids’ first sister city and has participated in person-to-person exchanges, educational presentations, business counsel, and more.
Perugia has a long-standing history with Grand Rapids. In the past, representatives from Grand Rapids have participated in Perugia’s International Marketplace, delighting visitors with Michigan-made maple syrup, cherry wood products, caramel corn, and more.
Zapopan Mexico is a fast-growing region that has been dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Mexico,” with highly rated educational institutions and technological development.
Michigan’s capital city is also home to seven (we’re noticing a pattern here) sister cities:
- Sanming China
- Pianezza Italy
- Otsu Japan
- Asan South Korea
- Akuapim South District Ghana
- Guadalajara Mexico
Otsu is the former capital of Japan and sits on Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. This makes it a center of tourism and outdoor recreation.
Akuapim South District has a population comparable with Lansing but also has a much more rural population. Its wealth of natural resources has made it a place for development with plans in the works for more urbanization.
Asan is a business hub in South Korea, which allows for electronic and automobile manufacturing, among other things.
Guadalajara is known as the “Pearl of the West” as the capital of the state of Jalisco and is a bustling city — like Lansing — with a half dozen universities, a thriving art scene, a symphony orchestra, and more.
Sanming has a long history and showcases it in stone carvings, architecture, and more. It’s also an industrial city and a major producer of many natural products.
Recently, Lansing officials have explored a relationship with a city in Romania, but the partnership has been put on hold for the time being.
Kalamazoo has a pair of sister cities:
- Numazu Japan
- Pushkin Russia
Kalamazoo’s relationship with Russia began in 1991 after a Western Michigan University professor attended a conference in Russia and met officials from Pushkin. After Russian officials came to Michigan soon after, a partnership was formed.
For many years, Kalamazoo officials visited Pushkin every year, helping the city after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kalamazoo held an annual Russian Festival for many years and even helped Pushkin celebrate its 300 anniversary in 2010.
Kalamazoo’s relationship with Numazu began in 1963 after a local businessman who traveled there frequently noticed the two cities were similar and helped forge a partnership. Delegations from both towns continue to visit one another frequently.
One of Michigan’s crown jewels, Mackinac Island, shares a partnership with Lybster Scotland in the United Kingdom. Lybster is a coastal village in Northern Scotland and was once the site of a major fishing port for herring.
The two cities’ major connection to one another comes via Patrick Sinclair, a Lybster native, who was an officer in the British Army and former lieutenant governor of Michilimackinac.
He later oversaw the construction of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island and was honored for many years with the namesake Patrick Sinclair’s Irish Pub on the island — it’s now known as Huron Street Pub & Grill.
The Queen City of the North shares a twin kinship with Kajaani Finland and Higashiomi Japan.
Marquette formed a partnership with Higashiomi in 1979, and the relationship has blossomed over the years. The two cities have traded delegation visits every year, during which the delegates live with host families and participate in cultural activities. Also, Marquette works to host outreach programs aimed at educating Yoopers on Japanese culture and traditions.
Thousands of residents with Finnish heritage live in the Upper Peninsula, including Marquette, and Marquette partnered with Kajaani in 1997, becoming just one of 12 US cities to have a Finnish partnership. Over the years, the two cities have shared delegation visits and celebrated milestone events.
Redford in Metro Detroit has a pair of twin cities — St. Johann in Tirol Austria and Gau-Algesheim Germany.
Redford has had a partnership with its German counterpart for more than 25 years (since 1981) and has been visited by Redford officials over the years. Students have also participated in an alternating exchange program, under which Redford students visit Germany and German students stay in Redford.
St. Johann became a sister city in 1972 and sent over a huge delegation, including its mayor, to recognize the partnership.
Saginaw, one of the biggest towns in mid-Michigan, can claim Zapopan Mexico, Tokushima Japan, and Amanokrom Ghana as its sister cities.
Since 1961, Saginaw and Tokushima have had a relationship that has flourished for more than 50 years and stemmed from visits to Saginaw by a Japanese exchange student who attended Michigan State University.
Over the years, a cultural center and tea house was constructed in Saginaw as a gift of friendship, and delegations from both cities have visited one another. In 2023, Japanese students visited Saginaw to study at Saginaw Valley State University and to explore both Detroit and Mackinac Island.
Also in 2023, the Saginaw City Council received gifts from its sister city in Ghana, which included clothing and fabrics. The two cities have shared a partnership since 2018.
This South Central Michigan town has two sister cities — Brecon in Wales United Kingdom and Lindenberg in Allgau Germany.
The Mitten State has German and Welsh ties, allowing Saline to form strong bonds with both cities. Brecon formed a partnership with Saline in 1966, and that relationship has resulted in more than 4,000 trips being taken by residents of the two cities to share their cultures. Saline even dedicated a bench in 2016 in Brecon Park, signifying 50 years of friendship.
Residents of Saline and Lindenberg have visited one another several times. Highlights of those visits have included trips to Lansing and Michigan museums, the German countryside, and Alpine skiing.
Sault Ste. Marie
The oldest city in Michigan has a twin city with the same name, just across the border in Canada. In fact, the two cities are less than 5 miles apart and can be easily accessed across the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge.
The mayors of both Saults (or Soos) made their sister city arrangement official in 2012, becoming the first Canadian and US border cities to sign such a pact. The agreement led to the creation of the slogan “Two Nations, One City,” as well as collaboration on educational and cultural exchanges, economic development initiatives, and more.
Sterling Heights in Metro Detroit is another Michigan destination that has seven sister cities, including:
- Cassino Italy
- Legazpi and Sorsogon City in the Philippines
- Tetovo North Macedonia
- Shengjin Albania
- Jaffna Sri Lanka
Sterling Heights has a long history of forming partnerships with cities around the world to form lasting bonds and learn more about other cultures.
Its partnership with Macedonia dates back to 1982, and Sterling Heights added its other partnerships in 1999, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2016.
This small town in Southern Michigan shares a sister city kinship with Tecumseh in Ontario Canada. The two cities became sister cities in 2013.
Tecumseh’s Canadian namesake sits on Lake St. Clair, just east of Windsor. It is also surrounded by Lake Erie and the Detroit River, making it an easy choice to pair with a Michigan city.
Additionally, Tecumseh shares a partnership with La Verpilliere France.
Learn More About Michigan’s Sister Cities
The cities highlighted above are just a few of Michigan’s towns with sister cities. Others have partnerships spanning all points of the globe, including Australia, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom.
Michigan’s sister cities allow for a better understanding of countries, cultures, and traditions different from our own, and strong bonds and mutual respect can form as a result.
The Mitten State is welcoming to people of all backgrounds, and the benefits of sister-city partnerships can be felt by opportunities afforded to high school and college students, the sharing of information, and the forging of traditions.