Midpeninsula Post

Bridging divides: Palo Alto and Bloomington, Indiana to enter sibling city agreement

Palo Alto City Hall in November. (Emily Yao)

STORY BY SAMUEL STEIN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

An unlikely duo separated by more than 2000 miles, Palo Alto and Bloomington, Indiana are soon to be connected by a sibling city relationship. At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Palo Alto City Council accepted a resolution to create this relationship, which now pends the likely approval of the Bloomington City Council.

A sibling city relationship is an agreement between cities to promote cultural and commercial ties, and the two mayors say they hope this connection will unite people from both sides of political controversies.

“It’s an idea that has grabbed a lot of hearts, energy and attention to think about this domestic sibling city [agreement] that does try to learn and share and grow,” said Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton, Zooming into the Palo Alto council’s meeting. “But, also [to] be part of this effort to knit our country back together again, just a step at a time, community by community.”

Palo Alto Mayor Tom Dubois said he hopes this initiative will set an example for other cities.

“It’s about forming this relationship, a U.S. sister city relationship with Bloomington, Indiana,” Dubois said. “It’s also, hopefully, a pilot for a larger national program to really encourage this kind of relationships between cities in the United States to bridge divisions between the country and to increase understanding amongst the community.”

Sibling Cities U.S.A., a national nonprofit organization that aims to break stereotypes and unite the cities, is facilitating the projected relationship between Palo Alto and Bloomington.

Sibling Cities U.S.A uses three steps with multiple components to unite cities and their people together. The first stage of this process focuses on the communities and their culture. In this stage, residents of both cities are encouraged to get to know one another over virtual interfaces like Zoom and possible in-person trips. This may involve joining meetings on a variety of topics, like the environment, racial justice and LGBTQ equality. 

In the next stage, the cities collaborate commercially for mutual success with businesses. The two chambers of commerce may coordinate on additional topics and private equity investors may open themselves to pitches from both cities.

The final stage encourages residents of both towns to exchange opinions on divisive policy issues. Group discussions and meetings provide the chance for the two cities to “hear each other out in a respectful, safe and open manner.” This step aims to allow the citizens of each city to discuss issues once they already have a deeper understanding of each other.

While Indiana, where Bloomington is located, is a red-leaning state, the city cast its electoral votes for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Bloomington is similar in size to Palo Alto, however, it is located in south-central Indiana, a generally rural place, and is a “limestone” city or a manufacturing city.

The sister city resolution is yet to be approved by Bloomington City Council, yet the mayor showed strong support during the Nov. 15 Palo Alto council meeting. 

“I want to express on behalf of the city of Bloomington and my fellow elected officials how excited we are about this,” Hamilton said. “I just so appreciate this first step.”

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