Innovative Twinning of Cities


Associate Professor Dr. A. Ghafar Ahmad

School of Housing , Building and Planning

Universiti Sains Malaysia 11800 Penang, Malaysia

Paper presented at the First International Convention and Exposition – Twin Cities 2001

Twinning Cities for Smart Partnership and Mutual Prosperity, 16-17 April 2001, Melaka

 1.0  Introduction

In recent years the nature of world politics has been undergoing a paradigm shift. Terms such as global village, city-state, region, community and neighbourhood are colouring our vocabulary, more so than the terms national, federal, state and local. Information technology (IT) has made the 19th Century jurisdiction lines almost obsolete as the world emerges as a borderless entity. In lieu of past ethnic, political and economic struggles, countries worldwide have increasingly recognised the importance and necessity to nurture cooperation and collaboration across borders as the world marches into the 21st Century. The development tenets of the past, that of competition, economic rivalry and exploitation, have evolved to make way for global, regional and community cooperation and esprit de corps. City twinning programme is well poised as a pragmatic platform and an effective vehicle to reach out and encourage the new friendship and fellowship amongst nations. This paper will discuss some examples and ideas pertaining to creative twinning to highlight the success and benefits of city twinning, particularly in the South-east Asian region.


2.0   Why Do Cities Twin?

The information technology revolution has indeed draw people closer together. We are discovering and learning more about our friends and neighbours far and near. Satellite TV informs us daily about the world happenings, both the inspiring events and disasters. Issues including global warming, climatic changes, air pollution, draught, famine and war may only be resolved (if ever) through international initiatives and consultations. As such, city twinning may be perceived as a positive first step towards fostering global understanding, nurturing networks of expertise and mutual sharing of ideas and solutions to overcome some common problems. Conceptually, city twinning is a deliberate and conscious effort to enhance long-term collaboration and cooperation amongst people in foreign countries to improve the overall quality of life in cities. The concept of sharing and prospering with friends and neighbours is the principle underlying city twinning.


City twinning holds many promises as a beneficial venture to both government and the people alike. There have been many success stories of city twinning programme worldwide, for instance:

·        The city of Bristol, UK has twinned successfully with Beira (Mozambique), Bordeaux (France), Hannover (Germany), Oporto (Portugal), Puerto Morazan (Nicaragua) and Tbilisi (Georgia).

·        The city of Chester, UK has sister cities in Sens (France) and Chester (Connecticut, USA).

·        The city of Victoria, Canada has twinning programmes with Napier (New Zealand), Suzhou (China), Morioka (Japan) and Khabarovsk (Russia).

·        The city of Schongau, Germany has twinning exchanges with Colmar (France), Abingdon (UK), St. Niklaas (Belgium), Lucca (Italy), Gogolin (Poland) and Gorinchem (Netherlands).

·        The Tacis City Twinning Programme is concerned with the twinning of the local and regional authorities of the European Community (EU) with twelve New Independent States and Mongolia.

·        The town of Troyan, Bulgaria has developed successful relationships with Ostermundigen and Kandersteg (Switzerland), Limavadi (South Ireland), Marina Gorka (Bialorussia) and Vigno-de-Sena (France).

·        Closer to home, the city of Georgetown twins with Adelaide (Australia) and the capital Kuala Lumpur liaises with Esfahan (Iran).


3.0   How Twinning Works?

Cities all over the world have been twinning for various reasons, be it economic, social, political and cultural purposes. City twinning also cover a broad range of exchanges, projects and initiatives, which benefit all levels of community including business, education, culture, social, sports, youth and women. More opportunities and avenues in city twinning may well be explored in the near future with exciting and favourable outcomes.


An interesting example is the city of Schongau, Germany which is renowned for its arts and cultures dating back from the Medieval period. Every year the city holds a showcase of its magnificent Folk Festival, including music, theatres and museums to be celebrated by all her twin cities. The city also hosts summer events and cultural exchange programmes for youths from the twin cities in an effort to cultivate mutual understanding and respect between the respective cultures.


The Tacis City Twinning Programme is another fine example of the European Union (EU) initiative to support the development of market economies and democratic societies in the Newly Independent States and Mongolia. The Tacis programme is aimed specifically at transferring expertise and know-how through practical training to improve the organisation, administration and technical services of those countries. The Tacis programme has adopted several selection criteria to ensure that all participating partners carry out their projects with full commitment.


The city of Bristol, UK illustrates another dimension in twinning, that of educational pursuits. Exchange programmes between sister cities allow youth to learn new languages and to experience different cultures, thus promoting inter-cultural relations and understanding. Other culture, sports, youth and social events have been organised regularly between the sister cities. Business opportunities have also flourished through twinning initiatives including packaged holiday tours, commercial activities and port trading.


The city of Chester, UK is virtually on-line through a website maintained by the Chester International Links Association. This dynamic association encourages linkages and communications between the twinning cities in France and the USA. The city has also run various twinning forums ranging from housing provision to environmental and sports to facilitate the development and implementation of innovative measures to improve services in the city.


Experiences of the twinning cities have demonstrated that twin city partnership involved pro-active participation and full support from all levels of government, NGOs, private volunteer groups and the local citizens. Whilst the City Councils have been reviewing and coordinating all the related liaison policies and regulations, volunteers from support groups and city citizens have been the main catalysts in organising, funding and providing hospitality to nurture each liaison to success. It is clear from these examples that the success of city twinning is not purely coincidental but that it should be developed through the sharing of a common vision and a willingness to engage in a meaningful partnership. These cities have paved the path to partnership and have shown that city twinning is indeed a rewarding endeavour.


4.0       Smart Partnership

Literature has highlighted that partnership can be regarded as the “…highest stage of working relationship between different people brought together by commitment to common objectives, bonded by long experience of working together, and sustained by subscription to common visions…” (Mohaddin, 1998, as quoted in Hauck and Land, 2000). Partnership between cities (or twinning) may be regarded as a long-term working relationship between people of different cities, sharing resources and adapting to each other’s priority, strength and weakness to achieve a common good. Strengthening ties between people and organisations could be expressed through academic, professional, civic and electronic links.


Smart cities are indeed a manifestation of human best achievements with the latest in information and technologies, and pools of knowledge workers. Smart cities are able to adopt information and communication technologies (ICT) in innovative ways to empower the people and the institutions to be more effective and efficient in their daily transactions. Smart city communities take pride and find strength in their diversity. They support, participate and fuel smart partnership initiatives with other bodies locally and abroad including governments, investors, universities, cultural institutions, etc. As such, city twinning provides the necessary framework for the development of smart partnerships and the exchanging of resources to improve the many aspects of city development including public administration, urban services management, economic development, the environment, etc. Nonetheless, the key elements such as sustained commitment, trust, transparency and due respect for cultural values and norms should be honoured in smart partnership considerations.


Experiences from abroad have provided some indicative guidelines on how to approach, conduct and manage twinning programmes. The literature has also underlined some of the issues and concerns regarding city twinning and partnership as shown in Table 1. Cities in South-east Asia in particular have much to learn and emulate from the successful foreign experiences in city twinning, whilst adapting the programmes to suit the local norms, values and cultures.


Table 1: Issues and Concerns in City Twinning and Partnership

Commencing Stage

Power & Responsibility


·        Assess concepts, content & capacity of partners


·        Assess shares of funding & power relations

·        Effective communication & work culture

·        Give incentives for partnering

·        Empower responsibility & leadership


·        Interpersonal relations & cultural differences

·        Formalise partnership through MoUs

·        Assess organisational structures


·        Match outputs with objectives

·        Envision the future but start small

·        Build relationships with organisations not individuals


·        Create transparency & accountability

·        Reasonable time frame

·        Internal dynamics & conflicts


·        Profit & failure sharing


Adapted from Hauck and Land (2000)

5.0   Creative Programmes

Literature has highlighted that city twinning is an on-going process of learning, sharing and adapting between two or more cultures. It is a rewarding endeavour provided that all partners are in agreement of the shared goals and visions within the opportunities and constraints of the internal and external environment. Numerous opportunities are awaiting the South-east Asian cities to follow suit in the successful examples of city twinning.


Several cities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for instance are endowed with unique and distinctive arts, folklores and traditions such as shadow play, traditional dance and music, wood carving and tapestry. Such invaluable heritage may well be shared and appreciated by people of other cultures. Youth and teacher exchange programmes in cultural education and vocational training between the sister cities would help inculcate heritage appreciation amongst the new generation, cultivating a deeper sense of cultural identity and enriching these priceless heritage for posterity. Other creative initiatives such as electronic links between the citizens, on-line chats and forums, exchange internships, home-stay and specific projects could also strengthen the heritage ties between the people in South-east Asia region.


Creative twinning could also be advantageous to the South-east Asian business community, be it small and medium-sized business, multinationals and chambers of commerce. Business issues including comparative advantage, competitiveness, workforce training and development, workers union, minimum wages and continuing professional education could be addressed openly and effectively to benefit all partners. Worker exchange including visa issues, work permits and levies could also be negotiated mutually without unnecessary bureaucracy.


At the governmental level, rapid urbanisation, housing shortage, crowding and pollution are some of the common issues faced by all South-east Asian cities. Twinning initiatives could be nurtured and developed to share experiences and offer management and technical know-how to overcome these common urban issues. Working groups and task force on specific urban issues, joint consortia for staff exchange and electronic links may be established between the sister cities to improve the quality of life in cities. It is clear from the discussion that creative twinning would serve to enhance the livability and productivity of cities in South-east Asia.


6.0   Concluding Remarks

City twinning has rapidly gained its reputation as a pragmatic form of partnership in international cooperation today. Twinning exchange, project and initiatives between two or more cities have been driven by mutual interests and goodwill as well as undivided commitment from the governments, private sectors, volunteer groups and fellow citizens alike. Twinning is about developing with the people rather than for the people, thus twinning requires sufficient citizen empowerment to embark on such projects successfully. Distance is virtually nonexistent in the era of information and communication technologies, therefore establishing linkages and connections anywhere in the world is in principle quite feasible. The genuine concept of sharing and prospering with friends and neighbours enshrined in city twinning should be propagated to all cities in order to establish a network of twin cities across the world. In lieu of the benefits derived from twinning, it is suggested that South-east Asian cities work together in an integrated manner towards making city twinning a resounding success.



Bristol, UK Twin Cities,, referred on 21 March 2001


Chester City Council, Partnership and International Links,, referred on 3 April 2001

Hauck, V. and Land, T. (2000). Beyond the Partnership Rhetoric: Reviewing Experiences and Policy Considerations for Implementing 'Genuine' Partnerships in North-South Cooperation, referred on 4 April 2001

Innovative Practices in Bulgaria: Sharing innovations for improving local self-government in Bulgaria,, referred on 3 April 2001

Jones, M. L.‘Twinning’ as a tool for sustainable organisational capacity building,, referred on 4 April 2001

Schongau, Germany’s Twin Cities,, referred on 21 March 2001


Tacis City Twinning Programme,, referred on 4 April 2001


Transatlantic Conference “Bridging the Atlantic: People –to-People Links” Issues Recommendations,,

referred on 3 April 2001


Victoria, Canada’s Twin Cities,, referred on 21 March 2001