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Spreading out from the banks of the Mississippi River, in the north-central state of Minnesota, Minneapolis and St Paul are colloquially known as the Twin Cities. In Americans and Nothing Else (1980), Trevor Fishlock observes that these cities 'are divided by the Mississippi River, and united by the belief that the inhabitants of the other side of the river are inferior'.

It is true that there is a friendly rivalry between them, which dates back to the 19th century, when each city padded the 1890 census report in an attempt to be bigger than the other. Today, with a combined population of 2.9 million, the Twin Cities form the 15th largest metropolitan area in the United States and they flourish in happy symbiosis.

Minneapolis has emerged as the more 'modern' of the twins, due to its policy of razing most of its old buildings. The Downtown area contains many striking contemporary buildings designed by leading architects. St Paul has more of a preservationist instinct, with many restored 19th- and early 20th-century buildings. Minneapolis appears more slick and sassy, while St Paul is a laid-back elder brother.

Residents of the Twin Cities enjoy prosperity and a high quality of life - a clean environment, education and good health care are top priorities. With 949 of Minnesota's 12,000 lakes lying within the Twin Cities area, outdoor recreation is a given. Miles of bicycle and jogging paths surround south Minneapolis' 'chain of lakes'. Both cities are rich in the arts and cultural entertainment, with the quality, diversity and number of productions and facilities far surpassing the norm for the size of the city.

The Walker Art Center and Guthrie Theater are among the top venues in the nation. In 2001, work began on the state's first light rail line, which will connect Downtown Minneapolis with the airport and the Mall of America. It is due to open in 2003.

If there is a drawback to the Twin Cities, it is the weather. Winters are bitterly cold, with lots of ice and snow. Here is where the Scandinavian heritage comes in handy - residents take it in their stride and enjoy their fine hot summers all the more. Both cities have an extensive system of enclosed 'skyways' that connect Downtown buildings and enable pedestrians to move about easily, without braving the weather.
The Twin Cities are somewhat conventional, long known for the so-called 'Puritan work ethic'. They lie not on the cutting edge of style or trends but on a firm foundation of family orientated Christian values. But while largely conservative, they occasionally surprise onlookers with an independent bent, such as in 1998, when residents elected the outspoken pro wrestler, Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, as governor of Minnesota. Pundits recently called Minneapolis a 'solid block of ice' - a reference not to the weather but to its strong investment potential - as the continued good fortune of the Twin Cities seems assured.

Many top national and international corporations make their homes here, including Northwest Airlines, General Mills and retailers like Target and Best Buy. Speaking of retail, shopping is big business here. In addition to the enormous Mall of America, which includes an indoor amusement park, the Twin Cities is home to Southdale, the nation's first indoor mall. Outlet malls can be found on the outskirts of the metropolitan area in all four directions.

The film Mallrats was made at Eden Prairie Center. Why do Minnesotans love to shop at malls so much? Again, it all comes back to the weather.

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