A history of town twinning
To understand the reasons behind town twinning it is important to look into the historical development of the concept. From this ideas can be reinterpreted for a modern day equivalent, providing a wealth of benefits for both areas.
The term twin cities (or sister cities in the USA) refer to cooperative arrangements between towns, cities and even countries to promote cultural and commercial ties. The first European connection occurred in 836 AD, when the relics of Saint Liborius were brought from Le Mans, France, to Paderborn, Germany, on the orders of Emperor Louis the Pious (Stephen, C. The Origins of Town Twinning, http://www.highland.gov.uk). Previously Paderborn had no Saint and so the transfer of relics to the city raised its status and provided a bond of friendship with Le Mans (Paderborn’s Twin Towns, http://www.paderborn.de/).
Coventry was the first UK town to twin with another European city, twinning with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 (Mary Griffin. What is the point of Coventry’s twin towns? www.coventrytelegraph.net). The practise continued in Europe after the Second World War, as a noble pursuit to support cities through peace and reconciliation of war devastation. Another early example of town twinning dates back to 1947 when Bristol Corporation now known as Bristol City Council sent five ‘leading citizens’ on a goodwill mission to Hanover.
Within Europe, town twinning is now supported by the European Union. The support scheme was established in 1989. In 2003 an annual budget of about 12 million euros was allocated to roughly 1,300 projects, dealing with such topics as social Inclusion, sustainable development, provision of local services. The Council of European Municipalities and Regions also works closely with the Commission (DG Education and Culture) to promote modern, high quality twinning initiatives and exchanges that involve all sections of the community, to form a unified European identity (Council of European Municipalities and Regions, http://www.ccre.org/en/)
In 1992, the Treat of Maastricht was introduced; uniting Europeans with a single currency (Euro) and providing the rights to move freely, work and have access to education in European Union member countries (Maastricht Treaty. http://news.bbc.co.uk ).
In recent times twinned towns have little benefits for their residents. In an age of accessible communications, cheap travel and migration, twin towns are becoming harder to justify when there are so many interpersonal links already. The Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, stated he was scrapping twinning links with five cities to save cash. “I don’t think I’ve had one complaint from a Doncaster resident,” he says. “There’s no evidence that it made a blind bit of difference to Doncaster’s economy” (Jon Kelly. Why are towns un-twinning? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news). Councillor John Wyllie of Bishop Stortford reiterates this saying, “all I know is I’ve spoken to people in the town, and found a lack of interest in town twinning, so perhaps town twinning needs to reinvent itself?” (Ben Knight, English town ends twinning with Germany http://www.thelocal.de)
It is clear that the concept of town planning has lost its way and that a new and updated model might be more applicable to today’s fast paced and web reliant society. There are no benefits of historic links to residents other than for names sake; evident in both Stockport and Chester twinned with European cities located in France and Germany, offering little benefits for either host. With this in mind, how can a new twinning system be introduced and how can it be profitable for towns, cities and all residents involved?