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S. Korea pursues closer ties with Glendale

December 31, 2012

Korean cities are flocking to Glendale in hopes of creating business and cultural relationships with a city better known for its connection to Armenia.

In fact, so many Korean cities have wanted to set up an official “sister city” relationship with Glendale that officials have created a less formal title to accommodate the demand: “friendly cities.”

Four Korean cities have signed “friendly city” contracts with Glendale — three in 2012 alone — and more are waiting in the wings.

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“There’s been a swarm of cities,” said Alex Woo, president of the Korea-Glendale Sister City Assn.

The boost comes as sister city relationships with other countries have either faded or morphed from an avenue of cultural exchange to bonds centered more on financial aid.

A sister city is a formal relationship forged through Sister Cities International, a nonprofit founded by President Dwight Eisenhower. Glendale has seven such relationships with cities in Japan, Korea, Armenia and Mexico, but Glendale caps the number of sister cities at two per country.

That’s where “friendly cities,” which basically bring the same benefits with less paperwork, come in.

While Japan was the first country to make ties with Glendale — a connection that led to the Japanese Teahouse in Brand Park in 1974 — that relationship has run cold. Meanwhile, it’s heated up with Korea as people like Chang Lee, a planning commissioner, sing Glendale’s praises to connections across the Pacific Ocean.

“It’s all about relationships and I am very, very active. My middle name is ‘Mayor of Koreatown,’” Lee said jokingly.

About 5% of Glendale’s population is of Korean descent, according to the U.S. Census. A busy Korean shopping center — featuring a barbershop, supermarket and real estate agents — sits just above the Ventura (134) Freeway and several Korean churches dot the northern part of the city.

Glendale has connections with Goseong — which is known for its dinosaur museum — Gimpo, Incheon, Boeun, Hwasun and Paju, which wants to be the site of the next Ferrari World.

There are far fewer Koreans than Armenians in Glendale, yet the city only has one formal relationship with an Armenian city, and there are no plans to add more.

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