The Grand Rapids City Commission recently authorized a sister cities international agreement with Gangnam District, South Korea — the sixth such relationship Grand Rapids has built with cities around the world.
City officials hope the new connection will draw the two communities closer despite the 6,500-mile distance and 13-hour time difference between the two municipalities.
Gangnam is one of the 25 autonomous districts comprising the city of Seoul. It has experienced significant growth in recent decades, both in terms of population and economic activity. Today, the population exceeds 560,000 and includes major industries such as banking and finance, technology, entertainment and health care.
During the past year, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, City Manager Mark Washington, Grand Rapids Sister Cities International (GRSCI) President Leonardo Tombelli, city staff and members of the local committee engaged Gangnam District officials in dialogue, via correspondence and virtual meetings, to determine whether a new sister city relationship would be mutually beneficial and desirable.
Bliss said that the dialogue was positive and productive, “revealing complementary communities with similar strengths and opportunities to build and grow cultural, commercial and artistic ties.”
GRSCI Gangnam Committee, led by chairperson Kim McLaughlin, helped lay the foundation for the new relationship between the two cities.
Tombelli said Gangnam and Grand Rapids share several key characteristics, including the importance of their rivers. The furniture industry also played a significant role in each city’s growth and development. Recent growth and diversification of each city’s economies include ventures in the health care sector and the brewing and distilling industries. Even, ArtPrize, which started in Grand Rapids, inspired a sister event — ArtPrize Gangnam — in South Korea.
“We facilitate opportunities for cultural and economic enhancement through our sister city relationships,” Tombelli said. “The bonds of friendship developed through these partnerships have elevated the quality of life for the Grand Rapids community and the communities of our sister municipalities.”
In 1986, Grand Rapids began a sister cities program that now includes five sister cities in Asia, North America, Africa and Europe. Sister cities formed in the past include Omihachiman, Japan; Bielsko-Biala, Poland; Ga District, Ghana; Perugia, Italy and Zapopan, Mexico.