Sunday, May 14, 2006

A festering municipal scandal...

In his four and a half years as mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak has not landed us a single "sister city". This is, to my mind, disgraceful. As Wikipedia shows (scroll down), our last sister city relationships were forged way back in the Sharon Sayles Belton administration, when Eldoret, Kenya and Uppsala, Sweden consented to be partnered with us. Our current mayor, however, has done nothing to capitalize on this momentum. Why is this so? Why hasn’t Mayor Rybak been firing off letters to the mayors of mid-sized cities the world over, inviting them to share the joys of a vague and relatively meaningless municipal bond with us? Is he paralyzed by the fear that Aberdeen, Scotland might laugh in his face? Does he want to “go slowly” with Recife, Brazil? Is he hopelessly intimidated by Essaouira, Morocco?

Perhaps he doesn’t take the whole “sister city” concept seriously. Perhaps he thinks it’s a waste of his precious time to forge strange, nebulous alliances with the people of distant lands. If this is the case, I’m disappointed in you, Mayor Rybak. Deeply disappointed. I mean, Christ Almighty, any lame-ass “citizens council” can throw a bakesale and you’ll be there, jumping around like a maniac and embarrassing us all with your enthusiasm. Why, then, won’t you spare a few seconds of your downtime to fire off an e-mail to your counterpart in Madras or Trieste or Guadalajara? It’s a global world, R.T., and a city is going to need global alliances if it wants to prosper. Do you want Minneapolis to languish, isolated and sister-cityless, an a fast-paced international age? Do you, R.T.? Do you really? Because if you do, well then, that’s just sad.

Which brings me to my second point. Pardon me if this seems undiplomatic, but it seems that our sister cities are a pretty obscure bunch. Just look over the list:

* Santiago, Chile (1961)
* Finland - Kuopio, Finland (1972)
* Japan - Ibaraki City, Japan (1980)
* Russia - Novosibirsk, Russia (1988, with St. Paul)
* France - Tours, France (1991)
* People's Republic of China - Harbin, China (1992)
* Kenya - Eldoret, Kenya (2000)
* Sweden - Uppsala, Sweden (2000)

I’m afraid we cannot coast on Santiago’s presence here for long. Chile has been doing well recently, and–unless we move forward with this sort of thing–they will likely be looking to upgrade their sister city list. Mark my words on this. Why should Santiago stick with us when Houston or Boston or San Francisco would be happy to have them? Oh, sure, you can point to the long shared history and all the cultural similarities the citizens of Santiago and the citizens of Minneapolis share, but is this really sufficient to keep a sister city relationship alive? Relationships must change, they have to grow, and sometimes they even have to end. It isn’t that Santiago never loved us, you understand, it’s that Santiago might very possibly outgrow us. We have to be adult enough to let Santiago go, if that’s what Santiago chooses.

And, if that happens, I’m afraid the rest of our sister cities won’t be able to “pick up the slack”, so to speak. Now, maybe they’re all fine and happy places, but that doesn’t change this simple fact: you don’t go to Japan to visit Ibaraki City, you don’t go to China to hang out in Harbin, Tours doesn’t have the cachet of Lyon, and very few people (myself included) could find Novosibirsk on a map. In other words, they’re all to their country what Minneapolis is to ours, a more-or-less nondescript place where people live but nobody really goes. But, unfortunately, Minneapolis has never learned to live with this fact. It positively bristles whenever anyone suggests that it might be a little less cultured than Chicago, a little less worldly than Seattle, that there’s a little less “there” here than in Miami.

What I’m saying here is that if we want to be in the same league as Chicago, we have to step up to the next level of sister city. As you can see from this list here, we have some work to do. They’ve got Accra, Warsaw, Osaka, and Paris. Whatever will we do to compete with a sister city juggernaut like that, you may ask? Well, Mayor Rybak, you can just leave that up to me. Because this isn’t just a complaint, you see, it’s also an opportunity. I am willing to put my busy life on hold for the greater good. In exchange for a nominal salary and a generous per diem, I am willing to travel across the world extolling the virtues of Minneapolis sister cityhood with civic leaders of all stripes. I will travel far and wide, to the sexiest and most glamorous locations I can think of, all with an eye towards raising our fair town’s international profile. And, if I cannot meet with mayors or key council members, I will at least leave brochures with their receptionists. I will voyage–selflessly and with a burning sense of duty–to Monaco, to Tel Aviv, to Istanbul, to Cape Town, to Dakar, to Copenhagen, and even to Vancouver. All for the glory of Minneapolis, R.T. All for the glory of Minneapolis.

Think about it. That’s all I ask.

I patiently await your e-mail.