Image: Nomad

Shared interests are key to any relationship. So when Greg Raisman, a traffic specialist for the City of Portland, visited Utrecht in 2007, he saw a perfect match.

“I just thought, ‘Gosh, this place feels like home,’” he recalls. The Dutch city of about 318,000 may not be Europe’s most famous urban center, but it’s home to the Netherlands’ busiest train station, serves as the nation’s freeway hub, and is generally renowned for public-transport innovation. The city’s light-rail planners even used MAX as an inspiration.

After a second trip in 2009, Raisman decided to make the first move: a city-to-city transportation knowledge share, a wonky initial step to more lasting ties. Soon, Dutch diplomats, then-Mayor Sam Adams, and a host of Portland boosters got involved. 

Peter Noordijk, a Portland State researcher in public affairs and Mount Hood Community College instructor, serves as vice president of the Portland-Utrecht Network, an organization stewarding the budding relationship.

“I was struck by how many common issues there are,” he says. “To succeed, we really need a critical mass of people in our community that are excited about it.” Noordijk notes several reasons for Portland to cozy up to Utrecht. Nike and Wieden & Kennedy both have European headquarters near the city. Portland’s booming exports trade can get in on the nearly $50 billion in goods and services the US sends to the Netherlands every year. And, he adds, “there is strong interest in a Portland presence at Utrecht’s beerfest.”

Today, the two towns are officially “friendship cities,” a trial period that could lead to official sister-city status and the ongoing business and cultural links that a more intimate relationship would bring. Noordijk, for one, has no trouble seeing the logic in that. “You’ve got to be friends first, right?”