Szeged Cambridge's twin - Long-standing exchange with Hungarian city
23 Mar 2016
On the signs at the Cambridge city borders, small letters under the city name inform visitors that Cambridge is twinned with Szeged, Hungary, and so when we heard that a 24-member delegation from Szeged was about to arrive we decided to find out more.
The living ties to Szeged have existed since 1987 and have been overseen at our end by Julia Seiber Boyd, who explained that Szeged (the 'z' is unpronounced and makes the name begin with an 's' sound in Hungarian) is a place rather larger than Cambridge, with a population of 200,000, situated on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, and like Cambridge it is an ancient city, dating back to 1183. It has many of the same urban issues that face Cambridge.
'Our world is at a tipping point. Over 50 percent live in cities... they are magnets for work. Collaboration is needed across many professions industrial design, landscape environment, education, health and other infrastructure... for the overall good,' she stated, seeing the twinning as a much-needed input into problems and challenges that all cities face, and clearly her priorities are strongly rooted in the need to be first and foremost custodians of our world, and use green alternatives so that it can be handed on to future generations intact.
'All cities have common dilemmas, how to engage local democracy in making urban density sustainable without further exhausting the finite resources of the planet,' said Seiber Boyd, Chair of the Cambridge Szeged Society.
For these practical reasons, as well as cultural inquiry, a delegation from Szeged arrived from Hungary last week, hosted by the Mayor, for a long, hard discussion over two days in the City Council Chamber of the Guild Hall on how our two cities would tackle the very pressing needs from health to work/life balance, from transport and flooding to the challenge, mostly for Cambridge, of blending old and new buildings in the city. They hoped, as Seiber Boyd said simply, ‘to learn from each other’.
Members of the Mayor’s Cabinet from Szeged, two City Councillors and member of parliament Sandor Szabo were among the delegation to launch into this marathon ideas swap focussed around Cambridge’s own Guildhall where an equally august group including our own Mayor Robert Dryden and Nichola Harrison a former Lib Dem Councillor who spoke on the problems and possibilities of different types of transport. Dr. Spencer Hagard, public health consultant and former adviser to the World Health Organization, also spoke at the meeting.
On the Cambridge side, the Mayor hosted the first day’s session and Lewis Herbert, Leader of the Council hosted the second day. Discussions ranged over topics including energy dependency, European Union partnerships, transport, tourism, public health and environmental issues, including rubbish and air quality.
A passionate advocate for buses, Harrison explained how key was a good public bus service for the enjoyment of a city’s citizens, especially those without cars - and when a speaker from Szeged next spoke we were intrigued to discover the low pollution electric trolleys used throughout the city – something that Harrison thought unlikely for Cambridge but which appeared to be a hugely valuable alternative to the petrol and diesel engines powering large often empty buses around out own city. A new system of larger buses is in development in Szeged too but it’s linked to the older trolley system in what appears to be a sensible sustainable way.
Harrison was adamant about the enormous value such a switch of ideas and attitudes could have for the perspective of Cambridge people, 'My feeling is that we really must hold together, exchange solutions and broaden our outlook. Cuts in public transport are wrecking people’s lives. It’s for this reason I am passionately committed to the idea of road pricing to pay for the much needed infrastructure in transport,' she explained after the first session.
Throughout the afternoon, a lively interpreter and head of the delegation, Gabor Nagy, an environmental official, worked tirelessly to bring English speakers’ ideas to the Szeged contingent and vice versa. Quite a few delegates did not speak any English so he was nearly exhausted with this task by the end of the first day. What kind of thing was discussed in detail?
Hagard gave a brilliant lecture on the clash of private interests with public health and explored this relationship as either a conflict or a cooperation. Beginning with Jon Snow, the Victorian health campaigner who removed the handle from the water pump during a cholera epidemic in London in 1854 to prevent the disease -- much to the fury of the developers of the time -- he worked his way through a host of public health issues, chiefly smoking, concluding that the public good usually won out, in the end over private interests.
Ironically it was Professor Joseph Fodor, father of public health and initiator of the idea of Medical Officers in 1891, who was honoured by Cambridge University when the rest of the world were indifferent to the health changes needed to bring disease under control. He was a Hungarian, making the very salient point that ideas from everywhere are needed for progress in health as much as anywhere else.
The list of interchangeable ideas went on and on. And the delegates, who’d been up since 2 a.m. were flagging and keen to leave for some drinks. But they are still enthusiastic to repeat the Cambridge exchange dynamic back in Szeged in the summer at their famous Bridge Festival in May. Loaded with solutions with many more challenges to face, the twinning of Cambridge and Szeged under its dedicated leader Boyd, the interplay of proposals and solutions will continue.