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Kansas City doesn't just have one sister city — we have 12. Here's how that works

Sister Cities Bridge Kansas City
Kansas City Parks & Recreation
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The most iconic emblem of sister cities in Kansas City is the Sister Cities International Bridge, featuring national flags whipping in the breeze across Brush Creek.

For 66 years, Kansas City and its sister cities have shared goodwill and positive fellowship across thousands of miles.

This story was first published in KCUR's Creative Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

The idea of sister cities (or twin towns) has been around for centuries. But it sparked the imagination of American civil and public leaders after World War II, when President Dwight Eisenhower promoted a program of “citizen diplomacy."

The concept appealed to Kansas City leaders, with Joyce Hall as one of the instigators at the national level. Sister Cities International began in 1956 and now reports over 1,800 participating cities around the world in 138 countries.

Here in Kansas City, Missouri, we partner with 12 different international cities, with many more in the surrounding communities.

But sister cities partnerships are not entered into lightly. Partnerships are based on commonalities between cities, highlighting similarities and celebrating differences. It's formalized with documents signed by respective mayors and cultivated by dedicated volunteers who, across great distances, forge bridges of friendship with their passion, curiosity and love of community.

There’s no one way to build a family. These relationships take shape in a variety of ways, though most involve multiple factors of educational, business and cultural exchange.

For 66 years in Kansas City, sister cities have shared goodwill and positive fellowship, establishing our hometown as a global city proud of its richly diverse heritage.

Twin towns and sister cities

A small square tile that shows an Asian symbol that looks like a blooming flower and the words "Tainan" and "Taiwan 1978" sits affixed to iron rails of a fence for a bridge. Red and yellow Kansas City Chiefs flags adorn the bridge.
Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
Tainan, Taiwan, is one of 13 sister cities designated on the Sister Cities International Bridge, which crosses Brush Creek where Central Street dead ends into Ward Parkway.

The most iconic emblem of sister cities in Kansas City is the Sister Cities International Bridge, featuring national flags whipping in the breeze across Brush Creek. Facing the Country Club Plaza, replica terracotta warriors from Xi’an guard (or welcome) at the entry.

The Kansas City Sister Cities Association coordinates the various local sister cities chapters. Seville, Spain, was the first partnership forged in 1967, and throughout the decades Kansas City has connected with communities around the world.

Here's the complete list of Kansas City's sister cities:

  • Seville, Spain (1967)
  • Kurashiki, Japan (1972)
  • Morelia, Mexico (1973)
  • Freetown, Sierra Leone (1974)
  • Tainan, Taiwan (1978)
  • Xi’an, China (1989)
  • Guadalajara, Mexico (1991)
  • Hannover, Germany (1993)
  • Port Harcourt, Nigeria (1993)
  • Arusha, Tanzania (1995)
  • Ramla, Israel (1998)
  • Yan’an, China (2017)

Learn more about some of these partnerships through the Kansas City Sister Cities Bridge Series, a video series presented by the International Relations Council.

In developing each unique partnership, delegates look for elements of civil life that coordinate, including geographic region, population, cultural elements, commerce and agriculture.

The Country Club Plaza’s architecture mimics that of Seville, Spain, a city also shaped by a large river. Kansas City, Morelia, Mexico, and Hannover, Germany, are all designated UNESCO Creative Cities of Music, each with its own strong jazz community, as well as other musical styles.

Connecting across continents

Dragon Boat Festival Kansas City
Linda Hanley
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The Society for Friendship with China Dragon Boat Festival
Sponsoring cultural events, such as the annual Dragon Boat Festival along Brush Creek, is one way Kansas City connects with its sister cities.

Kansas City connects with its sister cities in a variety of ways. International visits include educational and cultural exchanges, also promoting trade and tourism. Chapters coordinate donations of medical and school supplies, promote language learning and sponsor cultural events, including the Dragon Boat Festival along Brush Creek each June.

While travel and international exchange are integral elements of the organization, local involvement is just as important. Chapters and partner organizations host events and festivals, creating opportunities for Kansas Citians to engage with different heritages here at home.

Though many events have been canceled over the last two years, some went virtual, including the 2020 Greater Kansas City Japan Festival. The festival returns this fall on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.

Throughout the city, there are expressions of these friendships. In Loose Park, Kurashiki donated a tea room and garden, as well as cherry blossom trees. A mural depicting Japanese scenes adorns Bartle Hall. In front of City Hall, two lions guard the entrance: the east lion is Ti and the west lion is Wie. Both are gifts from Tainan, Taiwan, and were dedicated in 1977.

Kansas City also makes its mark in the world. Seville, Spain, dedicated a main thoroughfare in the city as La Avenida de Kansas City in 1969. In 1992, Kansas City delegates attended the World’s Fair (the only city from the U.S. invited), and gifted the city a half-sized replica of Kansas City’s iconic statue, The Scout, which was installed along the avenue and is known as “la Estatua del Explorador."

Kansas City also sent flowering dogwood trees — the Missouri state tree — to Japan. In Xi’an, a statue called Bridge of Friendship was a gift from Kansas City. A replica of the statue sits at the intersection of North Oak Trafficway and Vivion Road.

Neighboring sister cities

First "Pancake Race" on International Pancake Day in Liberal, Kansas, 1950
International Pancake Day in Liberal, Kansas
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Facebook
The town of Liberal, in southwest Kansas, is twins with Olney, England. Since 1950, they’ve celebrated International Pancake Day with a pancake race (shown above) and a festival on Fat Tuesday.

The worldly connections to our region extend beyond city limits into the neighboring suburbs and towns, which also developed international partnerships.

Kansas City, Kansas, shares partnerships with Karlovac, Croatia; Limerick, Ireland; Linz, Austria; and Uruapan, Mexico, places that share heritages with some of the immigrant communities which shaped the city.

Shawnee, Kansas, dedicated parks in honor of its sister cities: Erfurt, Germany; Listowel, Ireland; Pittern, Belgium, as well as a petite Sister Cities Park.

Independence, Missouri, twins with Higashimurayama, Japan. Independence installed a traditional Japanese garden near City Hall and hosts an annual festival celebrating its sister city connection. Each city honored its sister with a street naming. There are also Chur and Chalet Streets in honor of Olathe's sister city: Chur, Switzerland.

Honestly, though, there’s no one way to celebrate and interact with a sister city. The town of Liberal, in southwest Kansas, is twins with Olney, England. Since 1950, they’ve celebrated International Pancake Day with a pancake race (shown above) and a festival on Fat Tuesday.

Stronger together: Cities as works in progress

Fuente de las Tarascas - Ismael Leal
Ismael Leal
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Snapwire
In preparation for the 40th anniversary of Kansas City’s twinning with Morelia, Mexico, they hope to install a replica of Fuente de las Tarascas, a famous Morelian landmark fountain pictured here, by 2023.

Maintaining interest and goodwill over decades can be a challenge for any community, as civic leaders navigate priorities and shifting politics. But the nature of the sister cities program is to connect at the individual level, developing positive relationships around the world. It takes hours of dedicated work by volunteers to create and sustain successful, productive, affirming relationships.

And like any relationship, they grow and change.

The Kansas City Sister Cities France Committee is currently working on identifying a potential match in France. (From 2004-2008, Kansas City twinned with Metz, France, but that partnership lapsed.) Kansas City already has preliminary Friendship City agreements with San Nicolas de los Garza, Mexico, and Kabul, Afghanistan, which hopefully will see fruition in the future, as global situations evolve.

Though international travel has been on hold the past few years, the Arusha, Tanzania, chapter is currently in the planning stages for a summer trip, focusing on health care, commerce discussions and coordinating art projects between the communities.

In preparation for the 40th anniversary of Kansas City’s twinning with Morelia, Mexico, they hope to install a replica of Fuente de las Tarascas, a famous Morelian landmark fountain, by 2023. The fountain was a gift from Morelia in 2013, but a suitable location and adequate funding delayed installation.

You, too, can become an international citizen diplomat. Individuals and families can join the Kansas City Sister Cities Association or a specific chapter, volunteer to host exchange students and participate in cultural events in Kansas City with other passionate volunteers. There are many organizations in the region committed to extending the global reach and influence of Kansas City and promoting our shared humanity.

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Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She's written for KCUR, KC Studio, The Kansas City Star, The Pitch, and KCMetropolis. Libby maintains the culture blog Proust Eats A Sandwich and writes poetry and children's books. Along with degrees in trombone performance, she was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University.
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