Sunday, May 04, 2008

Twin Cities

I have never been sure of the value of towns and cities having "twins" in foreign countries.  My view has been that this was simply an excuse for civic dignitaries to go on junkets.

But there may be a good reason for twinning despite my cynical point of view.  We just spent about 24 hours in the city of Lyon, France which twinned with Birmingham way back in 1951.  There has never been much evidence of this link up, at least until Air France announced a twice daily service from Lyon to Birmingham a year or so ago.

What transpires from a little research and exploration is that there are some compulsive parallels between the two cities (though there are also some very obvious non-parallels as well).  So here are some of my thoughts, ranging from the obvious to the obtuse.

  • They are both considered "Second Cities" of their respective countries;
  • Large banks were founded in both cities despite being away from the financial centers of London and Paris respectively;
  • Culture has become an important ingredient of life;
  • The people are friendly (very subjective, I know);
  • Transport is quite well integrated (i.e. there are railways stations at the airports);
  • Food is important (Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, Birmingham's wide range of cuisines continues to amaze visitors);
  • City life centers around water (rivers in Lyon, canals in Birmingham, water running through public squares).
Twinning may be a good thing in that it creates competition between friendly rivals - anything you can do I can do better.  Birmingham can certainly learn a thing or two from Lyon, not the least being the tram and metro systems.  One thing it cannot easily achieve though is an equivalent climate!

Highlights of our visit included dinner at Brasserie de l'Est, a Paul Bocuse establishment that served up a memorable meal, a ride on the futuristic tram car and metro systems, a stroll through the old city and a French lesson from a jocular waiter at an outdoor café near the Town Hall.  Photos will appear on Flickr in the days ahead.