Why Do Twin Cities Exist?
Posted on 12th October 2018 at 15:25
We explain why cities and towns from other nations join forces
When driving into a town and passing its welcome sign you may notice that they mention a twin town or sister city of some kind. This is something I always wondered about as a child. I found it interesting to see the name of my local town coupled with some far-away exotic land. In my case Maidenhead which is twinned with Saint-Cloud, in the West of France (which is only about 300 miles away).
Interestingly, every town has a story and a reason for twinning with cities across the globe but over time, the reasons have changed.
The first example of towns twinning was way back in 836 when Paderborn, Germany, and Le Mans, in France, joined forces. It came from the declaration of Catholic “Eternal Brotherhood of Love” between the two. The transfer of relics to Paderborn and continuous friendly communication during the French Revolution shows a friendship that has lasted centuries.
After the Second World War, the practice of twinning cities really took off to promote mutual understanding and peace across Europe. For example, Coventry, which suffered heavily during the war, twinned with Stalingrad and Dresden, two cities which also felt the strain of war and were heavily attacked. Peace, reconciliation, and rebuilding was the aim. The people of Coventry raised £4,516 for X-ray units for the Red Army, despite having their own problems after bombing caused 554 deaths and three-quarters of the city’s homes obliterated.
Reading, in Berkshire, UK, was the first town to twin with an “enemy” city, which was Dusseldorf. Again, the partnership was to improve relations in peacetime and share resources, information, and build friendships between the two town’s inhabitants.
You can see that the idea of twinning cities was first used to ensure the continuous growth of the Catholic branch of Christianity and after WW2 it was used to regain piece after such a devastating war. The idea spread across Europe and was supported greatly by the European Union. In fact, the EU allocated €12 million to roughly 1,300 projects all related to twinning. By 1995 Europe had 7,000 relationships involving almost 10,000 European towns or districts, mostly located in France and Germany.
How do they choose which town to twin with? Often it is due to similarities between the two. Oxford, UK, is twinned with Bonn, Grenoble, Leiden, and other university towns, for example.
In the 90’s, twinning became increasingly used to form business links. Nottingham collaborated with its twin city of Karlsruhe in Germany to build a tram network (Karlshue has one of the most efficient tram networks in Germany). The German’s specialist engineers assisted, and Nottingham completed its second tram line in 2013.
Other reasons for partnerships include student exchange programmes, sport, and tourism.
Important to mention that not all the reasons are quite as morbid as recovering from war. Some were just for a laugh! The Scottish village of Dull, Boring, in the USA, and Bland Shire, Australia, are all partnered together.
Recently, twinning is becoming more practical. The modern world is very much connected, and this allows social, economic, and environmental issues to be discussed and dealt with using one another’s resources and technical expertise. Utrecht in the Netherlands helped to plant 500,000 trees in Leon, Nicaragua, and Nouvelle Aquitaine in France are working with Plateau Central in Burkina Faso to fight climate change.
In 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU. Local authorities in Britain are rekindling their friendships and setting up new partnerships to keep relationships with European towns where the national government’s relationships are breaking down. Oxford and Wroclaw in Poland is a new partnership.
Unfortunately, not all relationships stand the test of time. In the last five years, we’ve seen several cities terminate their partnerships for various reasons.
In 2013, Milan, Turin, and Venice cancelled their partnership with St Petersburg after Russia passed anti-gay legislation. St Petersburg lost another allied town, as well as Moscow, in 2014 when Prague terminated their relationship in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Another example was in 2017 when the mayor of Osaka, Japan, ended their 60-year relationship with San Francisco after San Francisco erected a statue in memorial to comfort women.
With this evidence considered, it is fair to say that the twinning of cities rarely brings any problems, and can only improve relations between cities, towns, and nations.
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