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Sister cities, also known as town twinning, is an agreement between towns, cities and even counties in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural and commercial ties. In the United Kingdommarker the term twin towns is most commonly used, generally referring to town-twinning with Europe, differentiating with the term sister cities which is used for twinnings with the USA. In Europe, a variety of terms are used; most commonly twin towns, but partnership towns, partner towns and friendship towns, are also used. Germanymarker uses Partnerstadt (Partner Town/City), Francemarker uses Ville Jumelée (Twinned Town/City).North America, South Asia, Australasia and Asia generally use the term sister cities. In the former Soviet Bloc countries twin towns is used, as well as the term brother cities which is also used on occasion.

Sometimes other government bodies enter into a "twinning" relationship, such as the agreement between the provinces of Hainanmarker in Chinamarker and Jeju-domarker in South Koreamarker, or between Chinatown, Washington, D.C.marker and Beijing.

The Douzelage is a town twinning association with one town from each of the member states of the European Union.

Europe

The earliest form of town twinning in Europe was between the German city of Paderbornmarker and the French city of Le Mansmarker in 836.Keighleymarker, West Yorkshire, Englandmarker had a "sister cities" arrangement with Suresnes and Puteaux, Francemarker starting in 1905. The first recorded modern twinning agreement was between Keighley and Poix-du-Nordmarker, Nordmarker, Francemarker in 1920 following the end of World War I. This was initially referred to as an adoption of the French town, with formal twinning charters not being exchanged until 1986.

The practice was continued 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. For example, Coventrymarker twinned with Dresdenmarker as an act of peace and reconciliation, both cities having been heavily bombed during the war. Each twin city country is represented in a specific ward of the city and in each ward has a peace garden dedicated to that twin city. Another early example of town twinning dates back to 1947 when Bristolmarker Corporation (later Bristol City Council) sent five 'leading citizens' on a goodwill mission to Hanovermarker.

Within Europe, town twinning is 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. 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. It has launched a website dedicated to town twinning.

North America

The first city in North America to establish a sister city relationship was Toledo, Ohiomarker, United States, with Toledo, Spainmarker in 1931. Vancouvermarker, British Columbiamarker, Canadamarker was also a notable city to enter into an intercontinental twinning arrangement when, in 1944, it twinned with the Ukrainianmarker city of Odessamarker, which at the time was part of the Soviet Unionmarker. This was based on aiding the allied port city during the Second World War. Tashkentmarker, an Uzbekmarker city, then part of the Soviet Union, was twinned with Seattlemarker, Washington in 1973 and became the first Soviet city to be twinned with one in the USmarker. Another first for town twinning occurred in 1967 when Rochester, Minnesotamarker and Knebworthmarker, UK teamed up to bring a primary medical research front.

The American sister cities program was initiated in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower. It was originally administered as part of the National League of Cities, but since 1967 it has been a separate organization, 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 private business and 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.

Other meanings

The phrase "sister cities" is sometimes used to refer to cities without a formal agreement which have similar cultures and/or historical background, such as Galveston, Texasmarker and New Orleansmarker, two cities that were historically major Southern ports on the Gulfmarker coast. Another example is Charleston, South Carolinamarker and Bostonmarker.

Criticism

The concept of sister cities has been criticized as an unnecessary and expensive endeavor for cities to take part in with little to no accountability or obvious signs of economic development resulting from the arrangement. Critics complain that politicians can use the sister cities as an excuse to take junkets.

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