Bend’s Sister City Foundation
Sister city relationships are very much like the sibling relationship for which they’re named. They consist of a healthy dose of sibling rivalry paired with a constant undercurrent of support. Each of Bend’s three sister cities boasts similar physical features in mountains, rivers, and quaint downtown gathering spaces. They also each serve as the regional hub for governance, medical services, and tourism. And, they share frustrations regarding transportation, higher education, and managing growth. We have much to learn from Bend’s sisters and many ways to offer support.
Bend formed the first sister city relationship with Condega, Nicaragua in 2004. Since Nicaragua is the poorest of the Central American countries—think dirt floors and no running water—we might be more inclined to focus on the differences between us. Yet there are many similarities. The outlying areas rely on the city of Condega for services, it has a vibrant downtown, and the country enjoys beautiful surrounding landscapes.
Thanks to the tireless help of three Bendites, Condegans know about Bend. Rick Negus is the force behind the Condega Project, a long-time effort to provide school uniforms, medicines, and educational opportunities for children. Mark Taylor, Bend Fire Department Deputy Chief of Training, built from scratch a fully-functioning fire department in the town, complete with two of Bend’s decommissioned fire trucks. You will find ‘Estacion Bomberos Voluntarios Capitan Mark Taylor’ (the firehouse) along the main highway. And Kathie Eckman, former Bend Mayor and Councilwoman, has taken on a library and medical equipment shipments. All three are members of the Bend Sister City Foundation and were also instrumental in providing water filters for hundreds of households in concert with Rotary International.
“(I admire) the warmth of the (Condegan) people and the reminder of the value of a slower pace,” explains Eckman. “The town is so cohesive. Sometimes I wish we could learn to be more like that.”
Eckman believes these sister city relationships provide a better understanding of other cultures and an opportunity to learn from their best practices.
Next in the birth order was Fujioka, Japan in 2009. The dedication included installations of one half of a split rock in each city. Look for our half in downtown Bend’s Breezeway. According to Bend City Recorder Robyn Christie, while this sister city relationship is less active due to a restructuring of their city government in Japan, there are still yearly student exchanges, one of which involves one student from each of Fujioka’s 27 middle schools.
The baby of the family is Belluno, Italy, an official sister since 2012. Belluno, situated between Venice and the Dolomite Alps, might even be considered a twin sister. We share many common features, such as tourism, recreation, food, drink, struggles for higher education offerings, and a distinct lack of parking downtown. Our official plaque reads, ‘Bella Bend, Beautiful Belluno.’ It can be found in the Old Mill District across the street from the REI building.
“There is a yearly student exchange, an exchange of culinary educators and students, a masters swimmer’s exchange, and even our sister city plaque was an exchange collaboration between architects and artists,” outlines Bend/Belluno Steering Committee member Kit Carmiencke.
“Sister City relationships are based on community support and interest,” says Christie. “When the community pursues the relationships, that’s when they’re at their best.”