Perspective - City Living - Twin Cities: Mutual Appreciation Society; Far from Being Outdated, Twinning Cities Is the Way Forward, Reports Mel Hunter
Byline: Mel Hunter
Twinning - in the towns and cities sense of the word - suffers from a bit of a pipe and slippers reputation. To many people the most exciting it seems to get is the road sign half buried in an overgrown hedgerow which instructs you that the exceedingly sleepy town of Boringsville is in fact twinned with somewhere terribly exotic-sounding in the French Riviera.
But that image is now outdated. Big city twinning - or 'partnerships', in today's politically correct parlance - long ago shrugged off its image of school exchanges and the odd mayoral weekend break.
Today it is about scratching backs, holding hands and generally embracing every opportunity presented by thriving global partnerships.
Naturally Birmingham is at the forefront of all this and has its eyes wide open to the benefits of partnership with European cities, as well as those across the globe.
It hasn't always been this way, however. The original reason in the post-war years for twinning was to prevent further conflict. By holding out the hand of peace to communities in other countries it was hoped foes would in time become friends.
Jill Robinson, deputy head of the European and International Division at Birmingham City Council, explains: 'The whole idea was that by getting to know each other better, communities would understand each other and would turn their back on conflict.'
Coventry's twinning association with Dresden was perhaps the greatest example at the time of similar cities reaching out the hand of understanding.
Birmingham's first twinning relationship was with Lyon in 1951. Partnerships with Frankfurt and Milan followed in the post-war era, with Chicago, Johannesburg and Leipzig following later.
But inevitably as the world changed and as peace became the accepted norm in Europe the original reason for twinning essentially ceased to exist. The links became stale, the school visits more monotonous and twinning was reduced to little more than that exotic-sounding sign at the side of the road.
'The whole concept of twin cities became very outmoded for big cities,' explains Mike Murray, head of international links at the city council.
Twinning's days, it seemed, were numbered. And then at the beginning of the 1990s 'partnership' was born.
With the global village and European hamlet idea becoming difficult to ignore, it was recognised that it was no longer enough to look at people, policies and problems on a local scale.
Slowly realisation dawned that far from being a millstone around Birmingham's neck, the twinning associations could actually be just thing the city needed to take it forward to the 21st century.
Jill explains: 'In a changing Europe we felt we needed new ways of doing things. We felt we needed to be more flexible but we had to respect that there was a lot of history between us and our twin cities.
'We already had respect between municipal administrations and we felt we had to take that one step further and be prepared to learn from each other.'
She gives the examples of Frankfurt and Lyon. Frankfurt is very hot on recycling, so Birmingham was able to look at its policies to see what would work here. …