Spacing Satellite: Odd City Out

This week’s Satellite challenge is a classic game of “One of these things is not like the other.”

As you’ve probably guessed, today’s satellite images come from a little beyond GTA boundaries. From top to bottom, the cities shown are Milan, Amsterdam, Chicago, Frankfurt, and Chongqing. Can you tell which of these five cities doesn’t belong in this group?

Ready to see which of these five cities is out of place in today’s group?

Just over half of you picked Chicago as today’s misfit, with Spacing reader Torontonian noting in the comments below that he singled the city out because it’s the only one pictured with a regular grid pattern layout. That said, today’s correct answer is actually Amsterdam – not because of its urban form, but because today’s other four cities share a special connection to Toronto.

Indeed, Milan, Chicago, Frankfurt, and Chongqing are all considered “sister cities” (or, formally, “Partnership cities”) of Toronto as part of its International Alliance Program. On a smaller scale, these partnerships are known as “twin towns,” but don’t confuse sister cities and twin towns with cities twinned by geographic proximity, like Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Rather, these connections come as a reflection of networking in our globalizing world.

Toronto’s overview of its own approach to this popular practice explains that it aims to “strengthen economic, cultural, tourism, and multicultural links internationally,” with partnerships established based “on the partner and friendship city’s demographics, economic growth and similarities, GDP, and the potential for investment.” Of the city’s current Partnership cities, Chongqing has had the longest relationship – its sisterhood with Toronto began in 1986, followed by Frankfurt in 1989, Chicago in 1991, and Milan most recently in 2002. Mayors of sister cities make a point of arranging occasional family reunions – most recently, David Miller undertook a business mission to Chongqing in 2008 (covered by The Star here), following a trip to Frankfurt taken in 2004. For another family tie, Christopher Hume also touched on a bit of sibling rivalry when he noted in a column that Toronto’s loss of Expo 2015 was Milan’s gain. Meanwhile, Chicago maintains a great page detailing all of its own annual interactions with Toronto.

Today’s odd city out – Amsterdam – was actually a past sister city of Toronto, but it was not made a Partnership city when Toronto revised its designation framework for sister cities in 2005. It was, however, briefly reclassified as a “Friendship city,” and an enhanced program request to upgrade both Amsterdam and Warsaw to full Partnership city status was floated around in 2006 before ultimately being denied [PDF, page 423]. Now, it seems Amsterdam has instead lost any formal affiliation with Toronto – although I haven’t been able to find a City document covering this change, Amsterdam is no longer listed as a Friendship city on the City’s International Alliance Program page. Those cities that are listed as current Friendship cities include Warsaw, Poland; Sagamihara, Japan; Kyiv, Ukraine and, as of 2006, newly approved additions Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Quito, Ecuador.

Nonetheless, Toronto’s Amsterdam Square and Amsterdam Bridge both get their names from the city’s former sisterhood with the Netherlands’ capital. Amsterdam Square was named in 1974 when the sisterhood first began, while Amsterdam Bridge was named in 1978, when it was opened with a visit from Amsterdam’s mayor at the time, Wim Polak. Similarly, Amsterdam’s Torontobrug across the Amstel River is named after our city.

For more insight into what goes into considering such a city partnership, this 2006 City document [PDF] covers requests to establish relationships with Lisbon, Montego Bay, Monaco, and Manila. All were ultimately rejected, with geographic proximity to other sister cities, economic structure, and mismatched demographics relative to Toronto all cited as considerations. After all, sisterhood is a special bond.


  1. I got the right answer… for the wrong reason!

    I won’t spoil it for others… will post wrong reason later and how I figured out right reason!

  2. The form in Amsterdam is organized around canals; none of the others have this. That said, Chongqing’s form is pretty different too though, with a far different property structure and no perimeter blocks, compared with the others…

  3. One city has a regular grid street layout.

    All the others seem to have grown organically and have streets going every which way. I should imagine that the one that’s out of step with the others is Chicago mainly because it was rebuilt after the great fire and planners probably realised the grid was more efficient–and probably copied the layout of townships.

  4. The Chicago fire did not change the city’s street pattern–It was on a grid from its earliest days.

  5. I originally chose Amsterdam as it was obvious—to a Vancouver boy who grew up on the Pacific—that it was the only city on the ocean, then I clicked to see the Poll results and was surprised about 75% of choices were for Chicago which puzzled me—what was different about Chicago???

    I then remembered a story about Mayor Miller’s 2008 trip to Chongqing, Toronto’s sister city in China where he toured their Transit Control facility to find the head was trained by the TTC in Toronto.

    My curiosity piqued, I did a Wikipedia search to find if indeed the other cities were also “sister cities” of Toronto and they were… so I chose the right city for the wrong reason… again proving there’s more than one way to skin a cat!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Bob – that’s a great story about Chongqing’s TTC connection. (Plus, as someone studying for a multiple choice exam right now, I can happily report that the right answer for the wrong reason still gets a mark!).

    Globe and Mail funnyman Mark Schatzker has made a December tradition of writing an annual “letter to our sister city” addressed to Frankfurt, satirizing some of the events that played out in Toronto over the year. Last year’s letter was what got me clued me into this sister cities search.

    (I was hoping to link to Schatzker’s letters, but they’re part of the Globe’s GlobePlus-only archives).

  7. @Bob: Amsterdam’s not exactly on an ocean, but on an inland sea (albeit one ultimately connected to the North Sea) – not much different from Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan.

  8. Amsterdam is the most unique and inspirational cities of all those mentioned above.

  9. I chose Chicago for the street-grid argument too.

    Random “sister” city relationships are utterly meaningless – what did they do to pick them, throw darts at a world map? Toronto should focus on getting business and residents to better connect to the cities that matter in its peer group in North America — Chicago, NY, SF, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Vancouver, LA, etc.

  10. There’s possible cultural exchange, too, iSkyscraper. The choices generally seem to be among cities of similar size and standing within their respective countries. Why only focus on North American cities, especially considering Toronto’s cultural diversity? Regardless, Toronto should welcome more connections and exchange between similar cities to improve its recognition as a major world city.

  11. Interesting that there are no ‘sisterhood’ or ‘friendship’ ties with an English city.

  12. Well, the correct answer didn’t require even the briefest glance at the satellite pictures. So I don’t think the question or answer were playing fair with the concept of “look at the picture”.

  13. That’s a fair point, Ed – I wasn’t trying to be too deceptive, I just thought that running this as a Satellite feature was a good showcase of some of the visual similarities and differences between Toronto’s sister cities.

    In any case, this week’s Satellite question will be a return to the usual structure.

  14. Miles: ‘Interesting that there are no ‘sisterhood’ or ‘friendship’ ties with an English city’. Indeed. Our city is flanked by rivers named Don and Humber, yet we have no apparent connections to cities such as Sheffield, Doncaster, Hull or Grimsby.

Comments are closed.