Portland-Khabarovsk Sister Cities Collaborate on Urban Planning and Management

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Portland, Oregon and Khabarovsk, Russia sister city relationship. The two cities have many similarities – they’re both inland ports with a major rivers flowing through them, the Columbia and Willamette in Portland and the Amur in Khabarovsk.  Interestingly, they are both centers for jazz and blues. Over the years, the two sister cities have had a number of cultural and educational exchanges, including jazz festivals and student exchanges.

In early September, the Amur River saw one of the worst cases of flooding in 120 years with over 20,000 people displaced. Portland reacted quickly and lent a helping hand. Just a few days after the flood, a letter written and signed by the Portland Mayor and as well as all four city council commissioners was sent to Khabarovsk offering assistance in their time on tragedy. Portland offered expert advice and services of engineers and technocrats from the city’s several departments, including the Bureau of Emergency Management, Environment Services, and the Water Bureau.

The two cities have a history of working together on urban planning and management. Ranked as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world, Portland is famous for its best practices in land-fill and public transportation systems. Its waste water cleaning system is one of the most advanced in the country. “Given the expertise in our city, we decided to work with in close cooperation with Khabarovsk 10 years ago, on improving pipelines, landfills, and water management,” says Ms. Judy Parker, Portland’s Director of International Relations. “Portland cares about fellow communities – no matter if they are next door or across the ocean,” she added.

In 2006-07 when the Amur River, one of the main sources of drinking water, became seriously polluted, the Portland-Khabarovsk Sister City Association started a Clean Water Initiative and sent the head of the city’s water bureau as a consultant to Khabarovsk. The Initiative raised $45,000 through various grants and other sources to bring in environmental experts from Khabarovsk to inspect modern treatment facilities in Portland. The initiative also got a private engineering firm to assist in monitoring the amount of pollution.

The Jazz FestivalThe two cities plan to continue and strengthen their citizen exchanges. “Throughout the sister city relationship, there have been many times where the two countries are at odds with each other. Yet, through all that, our sister city association was able to focus on the people-to-people educational, cultural, and environmental exchanges,” says Alan Ellis of the Portland-Khabarovsk Sister City Association.  Mr. Ellis was instrumental in starting a sister school relationship between high schools in the two cities, a program that still continues. He added, “It is very important to continue and strengthen these projects to show that despite political problems, people on both sides can know and help each other.”