What is Town Twinning?

Diana Bocco

Town twinning, also known as partnering towns or sister cities, refers to the concept of pairing cities across the globe as a way to foster human and cultural links among nations. The first official twinning happened in 1930 between the cities of Klagenfurt, Austria and Wiesbaden, Germany. However, it wasn't until after WWII that this actually became a popular practice.

Jerusalem, Israel, which is twinned with New York City, US.
Jerusalem, Israel, which is twinned with New York City, US.

Developed in Europe as a way of creating friendship ties and understanding between the countries affected by the war, town twinning quickly spread to other continents as well. In 1944, Vancouver became the first city to be paired with a transatlantic sister city, when it was linked to Odessa, in Ukraine. The pairing was a great way for both cities to provide support to each other during the war.

Havana, the capital of Cuba, is twinned with numerous cities, including Istanbul and Madrid.
Havana, the capital of Cuba, is twinned with numerous cities, including Istanbul and Madrid.

Town twinning is considered such an important concept that the European Union allocates about 12 million Euros a year to promote it. This often leads to cultural collaborations and economic trades, as well as frequent student exchanges.

Town twinning often pairs cities that share some common characteristics, such as similar demographics, same names, or similar development issues. For example, Toledo, Spain and Toledo, Ohio, are twin cities. Certain countries have preferences when selecting cities. For example, 50 percent of the twinnings established in the United Kingdom are with France.

There are no specific guidelines as to the number of town twinnings a city can have. For example, the city of Las Vegas has only one town twinning pairing, with Banes, Cuba. On the other hand, New York City has fifteen twin cities: Tokyo, Madrid, Beijing, Cairo, Rome, Budapest, Sydney, Jerusalem, Santo Domingo, London, Amsterdam, Toronto, Bogota, and Johannesburg.

Town twinning is a very popular system with students and young people, as youth clubs, junior colleges, and voluntary groups often organize exchanges between the paired cities. Most cities have a twinning association, which runs the local community and deals with anything that has to do with exchanges between the sister cities. Many cities also work hard to establish new links with other cities to extend the network.

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