Beyond Our Borders

KCUR wants to know more about how Kansas Citians divide themselves and come together in a bi-state metropolitan area.

In the coming months, we will answer this key question: How do these 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.

HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE: Volunteer to host a community listening session with KCUR. We are looking for partners to help us run neighborhood forums that will fuel the stories for Beyond Our Borders. If you are interested in KCUR visiting your community or would like to help us coordinate one of these sessions, please email Ron Jones, KCUR community engagement director, at

STORY IDEAS: If you have tips or story ideas for Beyond Our Borders, reach out to Laura Ziegler, community engagement reporter,, or Briana O’Higgins, digital content editor, at

BE A PART OF THE DIALOGUE: Use the #KCborders hashtag on Twitter to ask us questions, share Beyond Our Borders stories with your networks, raise community concerns, tell us how we’re doing and suggest opportunities for coverage. We’re all ears.

FOLLOW THE CONVERSATION: Check back at for updates. Follow us on Twitter at @kcur and on Facebook to keep a pulse on the conversation.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

The Missouri River shaped Kansas City.

It ferried traders and explorers. It helped establish Kansas City's reputation as a transportation hub.

Slaves escaped across the river, where some settled in the town of Old Quindaro in the Kansas Territory, soon to be Free Kansas.  

But as important as the river is, we don’t get out on it much. And for me, growing up in a place that focused more on the prairie than the river, I’ve always been fascinated by the Mighty Mo.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

The counties and the towns across the Missouri River from what we know as Kansas City-proper have had an identity of their own for a long time. And you don't have to live here long to figure that out.

Scratch the surface of an old-timer up here and you might find some of the Old West.

Red-X today
Leigh Burmesch / KCUR

Before Walmart or Target, there was Red-X.


A fixture in the Northland’s Riverside community for more than 65 years, Red-X is not your average general store. For one, it’s monolithic. The L-shaped building takes up about 85,000 square feet. It’s a grocer, deli, pharmacy, liquor store, hardware store and unofficial museum.


Laura Ziegler / KCUR

It's not that there's a problem with plans to develop the Quindaro Township site in Kansas City, Kansas — some feel it's the way they're being executed.

The African Methodist Church owns nearly 100 acres of  the Quindaro site, once an important spot on the Underground Railroad, a thriving business and cultural community, and site of the first African American University west of the Mississippi.

Frank Morris / KCUR

More than four out of five Kansas City area residents have to cross the Missouri river to get to Kansas City International Airport.  For many it’s a lengthy drive, one that begs the question “why is our airport so far?”  

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

Slavery along the Missouri River in what is now the Kansas City metro area was not the slavery of Gone With The Wind.

University of Missouri-Kansas City history professor Diane Mutti-Burke, who has written extensively about slavery in Missouri, says slave owners tended to have less than 20 slaves. Those with more than 20 are historically defined as "plantations."

Kelsey Smith

Squirrels can be found just about anywhere in the Kansas City area, from the densest parts of the urban core, to rural prairie or forest settings.

They typically are a grayish color, brown or an orangey red, but recent black squirrels sightings in one Northland neighborhood have residents curious about the origins of their new dark furry neighbors.

“It’s weird. Two or three years ago if you had asked me if there is such a thing as a black squirrel, I would have said no. I had no idea,” says Dave Wood who lives on Erie Street in North Kansas City.

But now, Wood says, on his street the creatures are pretty commonplace.

Caroline Kull / KCUR News

Port KC, the organization in charge of riverfront development in Kansas City, has an ambitious plan for the south bank of the Missouri River. 

For Michael Collins, the group's president and C.E.O, the idea of another park on the river isn't enough.

"We want to see what we can do to push the needle or do better than other riverfront communities across the country," says Collins.

Though Collins says it's too early to talk specifics, the first stage of development will be multi-family housing and mixed-use retail.  Groundbreaking is slated for this fall.

Cody Newill / KCUR

In 1992, Missouri voters legalized riverboat casinos along the state's waterways. The promise was that tax revenue would soar for local communities and state education coffers would be filled. 

And for Kansas City's smaller Northland communities of Riverside and North Kansas City, that's largely been the case. Both cities have grown to depend on revenue from their casinos, though there have been some costs that come along with legalized gambling.

Transforming the Northland

How Floods Shaped The Kansas City We Know Today

Aug 10, 2015
Montgomery / Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City owes its place on the map and its early prosperity to rivers. But those same streams that carried people and goods in and out — and later made easy routes for railroads – also created unforgettable chapters in the city’s history: destructive floods. With each disastrous chapter, Kansas City has recovered, adapted and sometimes changed direction.

Caroline Kull / KCUR

Talking about downtown in the Kansas City area can be tricky.

That's because there's more than just one.

Smaller cities pepper the metro, particularly north of the Missouri River.

And while the skylines of these municipalities don't stand as tall as Kansas City's, these often historic districts are just as iconic for their respective communities.

ANSWERS: How Well Do You Know The Northland?

Aug 9, 2015
Caroline Kull / KCUR

So, how well do you know the small downtowns of the Northland?

Hopefully by now you have tested your knowledge — below are the answers.

1. Kearney

Population: 9,038

Established: 1869

Sign for Harlem Baptist Church
Leigh Burmesch / KCUR

Head north out of downtown Kansas City on the Broadway Bridge, take the exit for the downtown airport and at the roundabout take a right turn into the tunnel. In less than five minutes, you’re in Harlem.

This once bustling river town played a pivotal role in the development of Kansas City — but most Kansas Citians have never heard of it.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Everything Bryce Schaffter needed to brew beer commercially, North Kansas City had.

“Mostly industrial buildings work the best, along with the utilities that come to the building,” says Schaffter, Cinder Block Brewery founder. “You need a lot of gas power, electrical and obviously, water.”

North Kansas City has what Schaffter calls “flat” water. He got used to working with it back when he was a homebrewer who lived north of the river.

Courtesy photo / Snow and Co.

If your stomach is grumbling in the Kansas City area, the Missouri River plays a big role on how to satisfy those hunger pangs.

“It’s very much a psychological thing, you think you’re crossing into another country (when you cross the Missouri River),” said Jerry Nevins, co-owner of Snow & Co., an upscale frozen cocktail bar that started in the Crossroads Arts District. “Most everybody goes south.”

Just south of the river, you’ll find a plethora of dining options at independent restaurants in Kansas City on both sides of the state line.

Maureen Didde--CC / flickr

 A tweet by the City of Smithville caught our eye the other day — according to the United States Census Bureau, their population is on the verge of hitting 10,000.  


Northland suburbs are growing in leaps and bounds — much faster than downtown Kansas City, or communities like Overland Park.  


Julie Denesha / KCUR

My colleague, Donna Vestal, and her husband Eric like living in the Northland.

They have space. Their expansive backyard spills down from their deck like their own personal park where they enjoy a rural kind of quiet.

They like their living situation well enough to endure what can easily be a 30-minute commute daily across the Missouri River.

To save gas, Donna and Eric frequently commute together. He works downtown and she works at KCUR in Midtown.

Tim Kiser / Wikimedia Commons--CC

The Kansas Department of Transportation wants to know what drivers would be willing to pay for a new bridge over the Missouri River near Fort Leavenworth – if it saved them time.

The 60-year-old Route 92 Centennial Bridge is “functionally obsolete,” industry parlance for an old bridge that doesn’t really work for today’s traffic.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

Cara Smith didn't move to Parkville, Missouri, for the Missouri River.

But that's why she stayed.

Caroline Kull / KCUR

Pull in to the tiny Nelle Belle’s diner (pronounced “nell-ee bells”) on U.S. Highway 69 in Claycomo any weekday morning, and you’re likely to find the parking lot packed.

Courtesy photo / Missouri Valley Special Collections -- Kansas City Public Library

What a lot of Kansas Citians love about Midtown is the historic character of the area.

Twenty-two distinct neighborhoods make up what Kansas Citians call Midtown, an area spanning from 31st to 55th streets, former KCUR news director Mary Jo Draper lays out in her book, Kansas City's Midtown Neighborhoods.

Caroline Kull / KCUR

  The Kansas City Council has endorsed a plan to make part of Troost Avenue more neighborhood friendly.

The plan, which received unanimous approval Thursday, lays out a set of design standards for commercial and residential development along the corridor — from 22nd Street to Brush Creek Boulevard.

Most Kansas Citians have heard of Claycomo — officially called The Village of Claycomo — but how much do we really know about it? The mayor of Claycomo tells us more about his village — and dispels some myths.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Kansas Citians have no shortage of players to root for in baseball’s All-Star game.

Of course, six Royals players are in Cincinnati, but other teams are sending Kansas City talent, too.

Why Is Downtown Kansas City South Of The River?

Jul 10, 2015
Vincent Parsons / Flickr--CC

There’s something pretty obvious about how the Missouri River divides Kansas City: All the tall buildings are on one side of the river. It seems downtown Kansas City is firmly entrenched on the south side of the river. But … why?

Courtesy photo / Village of Claycomo

Last week, Jim Stoufer went to the Walmart in Liberty at 1 a.m.

He had just gotten off his shift at the Ford Motor Co.’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo. The plant had closed for the week for its annual summer maintenance, and local businesses were feeling the effect.

Regional Group Will Study Kansas City-Area Police Pursuits

Jul 9, 2015
Courtesy photo / Leawood Police Department


A regional planning group says it will wade into the issue of conflicting police pursuit policies in the Kansas City area.

The decision by  the Mid America Regional Council to study the issue comes in response to an in-depth look at area police pursuits published Sunday by the Hale Center for Journalism and The Kansas City Star.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

We’re learning a lot about the Northland in Kansas City.

But we know you know more.

As KCUR continues its look at the Missouri River as a dividing line in Kansas City — part of our Beyond Our Borders project — we’re posting photos of life north of the river on a new Tumblr site called Northland Exposure.

Alyson Raletz / KCUR

The Northland. Kansas City north. Northtown (also spelled Northtowne in some cases.)

Whatever you call the part of the Kansas City metropolitan area north of the Missouri River, we wanted to know more about its boundaries. But the answer is a little muddy.

Leawood Police Department

High-speed car chases are familiar scenes in movies and on TV — cop cars flying down the streets and highways with their sirens blaring, trying to keep criminals from getting away. But what many don’t realize is that in real life police pursuits are dangerous, and often end in crashes or — in the worst cases — death.