Town twinning

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This article is about partnerships between towns distant from each other; see Twin cities for the unrelated concept of physically neighbouring cities. See also Twin Town for the 1997 movie. Twin Towns is also a local colloquialism for the Minneapolis-St. Paul (Twin Cities) Metropolitan Area.

Town twinning or sister cities is a concept where towns or cities from geographically and politically distinct areas are paired, with the goal of fostering human contact and cultural links. In Europe, such pairs of towns are known as twin towns or friendship towns; in North America and Australasia, the term sister cities is used for the same concept; and "brother cities" (города-побратимы) is the term in the former Soviet bloc. Twin towns often (though by no means always) have similar demographic and other characteristics. Sometimes, even larger areas enter into "twinning" agreements, such as that between the provinces of Hainan in China and Jeju in South Korea.

The concept can be likened to a scaled up version of a "pen pal" scheme, where the "pals" are whole towns or cities. In practice, the twinning arrangements often lead to student exchanges, as well as economic and cultural collaborations.



The practice of town twinning was developed in Europe after the Second World War as a way to bring European people into a closer understanding of each other and to promote cross-border projects of mutual benefit. While still more popular as a concept in Europe than elsewhere, the idea has now spread to other continents, leading to some very interesting pairings.

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 about 1,300 projects. E.U. sister cities are a separate affiliaton from the international sister cities associations.

North America

The American "Sister Cities" program was begun in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower. It was originally administered as part of the National League of Cities, but since 1967 has been a separate organisation, Sister Cities International (SCI), which is a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network creating and strengthening partnerships between U.S. and international communities in an effort to increase global cooperation at the municipal level, to promote cultural understanding and to stimulate economic development. SCI leads the movement for local community development and volunteer action by motivating and empowering private citizens, municipal officials and business leaders to conduct long-term programs of mutual benefit.

Informal usage

Sometimes, people will use the phrase "sister cities" to mean cities that are neither very close together, nor from two different cultures and officially twinned, but rather two cities with similar cultures and/or historical background, as with Galveston, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana, two cities that were historically major Southern ports on the Gulf coast, and Charleston, South Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts (see the Charleston article for a description of their colonial-era relationship). "Twin Towns" is also used as a colloquialism for the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, specifically referring to the central twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

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