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When It Comes To Kansas City's State Line, It's Complicated

Alyson Raletz

I’m someone who simply will just say "I’m from Kansas City.” But, sometimes people will ask "Kansas City, Kansas, or Kansas City, Missouri?"

Then I go into the convoluted explanation how I live in the suburbs of Kansas City, Mo., but in Kansas, not far from the state line. It gets kind of boring.

But State Line is anything but boring.

I recently found Blue Springs, Mo., resident D.J. Lee at Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que (formally known as Oklahoma Joe's) in Kansas City, Kan.

"To cross the street and be in a different state ... pretty awesome!" says Lee.

But not everyone feels this way. Robin Rice, a local businesswoman talked about the politics.

"I live on the Missouri side. I grew up on the Kansas side," she says. "I'm a Yellow Dog Democrat and I have a lot of heartburn with politics in Kansas."

Politics is just one of the defining differences people seem to feel passionate about on either side of our state line, and it goes way back to even before the Civil War.

Also, there are the economics. We’re all familiar with the so-called “border wars” involving business poaching by both states.

And then, there are sports. Battling fight songs, flags, and tiger tails are annual fixtures of an ongoing, surprisingly bellicose Kansas/Missouri athletic war.

Pat Tholen has been selling homes along both sides of state line for more than forty years. She drove me to the southern edges of State Line Road, way south of 135th Street, where she says she often hears about the difficult choice people make if they have to choose one state over the other.

"The jokes always prevail," Tholen says. ("I'll hear people say)  'I have to get my passport to move from Missouri to Kansas.'"

South on State Line Road

State line leaves the central business district downtown running north and actually bisects the Missouri River for a ways before winding up  around Weston and Leavenworth. Looking south, state line starts in the industrial West Bottoms.

Established in the 1860's, the area became the agriculture and livestock hub of region with the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers. Today it’s mainly an industrial hub of warehouses, truck bays and train tracks.

From the West Bottoms, State Line Road stops and starts, goes under I-35 and picks up again on Southwest Boulevard. From there, you take a street called Eaton Street for awhile which turns into State Line at about 35th Street. From there it's a pretty straight shot south for miles.

There are hundreds of metropolitan areas in the country that are divided by state lines. But many of the dividing lines aren’t streets. They're water. Think about the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. In other places, the heart of the metro is a long way from the state line — think Boston and New Hampshire.

Credit Laura Ziegler
Jan Kauffman and Valerie Wells - great friends - say there are reminders they live in different states.

Life along the state line

It’s different here. In the Kansas City area, people live on the state line. A lot of people. Census data tells us our population is more evenly divided along our state line than perhaps any other bi-state metro in the country.

Valerie Wells and Jan Kauffman live directly across the street from each other right on State Line in the antique district around 45th Street. The ladies say most of the time State Line Road is just a busy street, one they regularly cross to share vegetables from the garden and care for each other’s pets. But sometimes they’re forced to remember they live in different states.

Valorie Wells tells a story about a horrible car accident that occurred on State Line. She was in her garden when she saw the car flip and roll several times. It ended up across the street.

Neighbors waited in horror as Wells called 911. The dispatcher had to ask ”which side of the State Line was the car on when it crashed?”

Jan Kauffman says it was a grim reminder they're in different states.

"I forget, we don’t all call the same people. And that’s how it works," she says.

Often police and emergency vehicles from both states show up.

There are other reminders for residents living on either side of State Line Road. Trash is picked up on different days. In Kansas City, Kan., they take almost anything — even furniture and appliances. Kansans jokingly accuse their across-the-street friends of sneaking their trash over from Missouri.

Snow removal, traffic lights and flood control, mostly are taken care of by a complex set of agreements between the cities that divide the road in parts from north to south.

The City Hall of affluent Mission Hills, Kan., sits neatly along State Line, landscaped with flowers and fountains. To look across the luxurious lawn into Missouri, the only difference seems to be older homes on smaller lots. Mayor Rick Boeshaar says the Mission Hills and Kansas City work well together.

"They take care of stoplights. We take care of snow removal. When we redid State Line two years ago we split the cost," he says.

The housing market

Realtor Pat Tholen is driving past the renovated Ward Parkway Shopping Center and remarks how valuable accessible shopping areas are to a neighborhood. 

"I'm glad to see the metamorphosis of Ward Parkway. It's amazing how a few anchor stores can really change things," she says.

Driving the straight shot along State Line out here, "into anonymity," as Tholen calls it, she says home prices along the Leawood corridor in Kansas are consistently higher driven primarily by demand for good schools.

But she says some south Missouri neighborhoods will hold value forever.

"South of 75th Street, buyers have made a decision, Missouri or Kansas. I can't think of an occasion in the last ten years of people bouncing back and forth. They may think they like the newer neighborhood feel of Kansas but they go kicking and screaming if they're die hard Missouri born and raised."

This intractable and sometimes intangible commitment to one side of the state line guarantees a lively conversation in the metro. At the same time it means the problems of a mushrooming bi-state area that require regional attention will continue to be a challenge for all of us.

This look at the Missouri-Kansas state line is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders  and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences on the state line with KCUR.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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