Beyond Our Borders - WyCo/JoCo

Credit Neil Nakahodo for KCUR

KCUR's extensive Beyond Our Borders project explores the history and impact of four distinct lines in Kansas City - Troost Avenue, the State Line, the Wyandotte-Johnson county line, and the Missouri River. For more than a year, we've been learning about how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.

Here, you'll find work related to our ongoing examination of how the line between Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas  unites and divides our community.

STORY IDEAS: This work doesn't end. If you have tips or story ideas for Beyond Our Borders, reach out to Laura Ziegler, community engagement reporter, lauraz@kcur.org, or Briana O’Higgins, director of digital content, at briana@kcur.org.

Denise Cross / Flickr-cc

Wyandotte County, Kansas, is one of only two counties in the country where three different ethnic groups — Black, Hispanic and White — each make up more than 25 percent of the population.

How residents feel about that diversity though, is about as diverse as the county itself. 

For some, the medley of different ethnicities in the county has given them a unique perspective on life and opened their eyes to other cultures.

Maria Carter / KCUR

Talking about the Johnson and Wyandotte County border in Kansas for the past few months literally has hit close to home for me — I live just a few blocks north of the county line in Wyandotte. As I found out since moving there, I'm closer to home than I realized.

I never really thought I’d live in Kansas. I grew up a Missourian. My parents fled the Johnson County suburbs for the Missouri Ozarks after I was born.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

If you ask almost anyone from the community of Argentine in Kansas City, Kansas what to see in their neighborhood, they’ll tell you to go see the mural.

The landmark that stretches across a block of Metropolitan Avenue is a point of pride for the residents — it’s only been tagged with graffiti twice since it was painted 17 years ago.

Brent Flanders / Flickr--CC

Of all Sporting Kansas City’s season ticket holders, there are eight times more Johnson County residents than Wyandotte County residents — even though Sporting Park sits in Wyandotte County's largest city, Kansas City, Kansas.

In the breakdown of Sporting KC’s season ticket holders, fans with Wyandotte County addresses account for only 4.5 percent, which ranks fourth among the counties in Kansas City’s metropolitan area.

Maria Carter / KCUR

Development, even redevelopment, isn’t unusual in the Kansas City area, but concrete examples of successfully working across state or county borders to do that are harder to come by. Yet that’s what happening at the district surrounding 47th and Mission.

Katie Brady / Flickr--CC

Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, is in its fifth season as the home of Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer. For the money spent on what is regarded as one of the best soccer venues in the country, very little so far has been invested in Wyandotte County for youth soccer.

But changes are taking place.

Christina Lieffring

Little League teams across Wyandotte and western Johnson counties in Kansas are gearing up for spring, summer and fall sports.

That’s why Varsity Sports Sporting Goods in Kansas City, Kansas, is piled high with brightly colored T-shirts and hats, waiting to be silk-screened or stitched.

Jim Woods is the owner of Varsity Sports Sporting Goods.

"All these Little League teams ordering uniforms and stuff this time of year, gets kind of crazy for about a month and a half, two months," Woods says.

The Rise And Fall Of Metcalf South And Indian Springs

May 1, 2015
Christina Lieffring

Metcalf South and Indian Springs were built when indoor shopping malls were cropping up all over the United States. Both rose to prominence and became destinations during the same time period of the late 1970s and early '80s. But they declined for very different reasons, which reverberate in the aftermath and redevelopment of their spaces. 

Frank Morris / KCUR

As Kansas state government braces for another round of budget cuts or tax increases (or both) to balance the state’s declining revenue, Wyandotte County is looking forward to a big jump in tax collections. That’s just part of the county’s profound, if spotty, change of fortunes.

Death spiral

Twenty years ago, Carol Marinovich became mayor of a city in steep decline. The Kansas City, Kansas she grew up in was collapsing. The house she grew up in, along with half her Strawberry Hill neighborhood, had long since been bulldozed to make way for I-70. But that was far from the worst of it. Wyandotte County seemed locked in a death spiral. 

For This Woman, Living In Johnson County Is Worth The Sacrifice

Apr 13, 2015
Christina Lieffring / KCUR

For decades Johnson County has lured people from all over the Metro with its promise of safe neighborhoods and good schools. Some have made sacrifices to make the move, because the cost of living in Johnson County is higher than other parts of the metro area. 

Megan Rojas crossed the border from Wyandotte into Johnson County and is trying to make it work for herself and her children. On a recent visit to her home, her son, Julian, like a typical two-year-old,  has already eaten two bowls of peaches and is still hungry.

“He eats all day,” she says.

He picks out Rice Krispies with milk and Megan tells him he has to eat at the bar in the kitchen.

“That’s one thing that I don’t like is that there isn’t enough space to put a table. So he has to sit at the bar or on the couch,” she says. “I wish we had a table. But living in a two bedroom doesn’t give you much space.”

Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

Both Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in Kansas have seen their Latino population grow in the past 25 years. And though the highest concentration of Latinos in Kansas City live in Wyandotte County, the number of Latinos living in both counties is about the same, nearly 40,000 people.

The population is growing at a rate that's fairly new to Johnson County, whose Latino population has nearly doubled in the past 15 years. I talked to Latinos living in both counties about the opportunities and differences between life in both counties.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

For the past few years, when we talked about education in Kansas it was all about money.

Is the state spending too much or too little? Are districts efficient? Is the school funding formula flawed And what does this have to do with student outcomes?

Turns out, not as much as you think.

"The most important factor is the education of the parents," says Professor John Rury from the University of Kansas School of Education.

For decades, his research shows, parents in Johnson County have generally been way more educated than parents in other parts of the metro.

Eleanor Klibanoff / KCUR

Terrie Van Zandt-Travis had only been a preschool teacher for three weeks when one of her more challenging students scampered away right after lunch. She looked around the classroom, and what she saw stopped her in her tracks. 

"He was face down in the trash can," she said. "We had peaches that day and there was a peach between every single finger. He was pulling them out of the trash can and jamming them into his pants."

She says she'll never forget this 4-year-old's face when he told her, "I'm taking food home for me and my brothers." 

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

Lake Quivira may be the only gated city that straddles a county line in Kansas.

Most of its 400 homes are in Johnson County but 17 of them are across the line in Wyandotte County. The political boundary between the two cuts through the lake on the northern end.

The clubhouse, golf course, and tennis courts — even the gas station just outside the security booth — are in Wyandotte County.

But during my recent trip to Lake Quivira — I found that if you didn't know which side the homes or amenities were on, it was impossible to tell where you were —WyCo or JoCo.

When it comes to standard measures of health, Kansas is a laggard. Whether we’re talking about obesity rates, incidence of diabetes, acute or chronic diseases, or childhood mortality, the Sunflower State typically ranks in the bottom half of state health rankings – and in recent years it’s been sinking even lower.

That’s bad enough. But there are vast disparities within the state itself. Averages only give a rough-and-ready sense of the state’s overall health picture; dig deeper – down to the county level – and you’ll find that some counties actually perform quite well while others perform poorly.

Central Avenue is a business corridor cutting across seven neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan. The street has seen a major cultural shift over the past 20 years, as Latinos have moved into many of the surrounding neighborhoods and started new businesses along Central. 

Guests:

  • Edgar Galicia, Central Avenue Betterment Association
  • Steve Curtis, artist and community activist, Community Housing Wyandotte county
  • Allie Mason, Fokl Arts Center

Monroe Dodd

Ask people in Kansas City, Kansas what it means to have a unified government, and you’ll get some interesting answers.

“Kansas City is like Australia,” says Hannah Milner, a stay-at-home mom who has lived in KCK for seven years. “They’re a country and a continent. We’re a county and a city.”

Despite this strong metaphor, Milner admits, “I don’t really understand the government side of things.”

That’s a fairly common sentiment in the Kansas City area. So let’s go back in time to see how the unified government developed, and what it means for KCK today.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR

In 2012, Democratic Sen. Pat Pettey was elected to represent Kansas' 6th district. Redistricting had just added a small part of Johnson County to a district that was previously only Wyandotte County. Today, the 6th district covers part of Kansas City, Kan., west to Edwardsville. It also covers parts of Merriam and Overland Park in Johnson County.

U.S. Census Bureau / Cooper Center at the University of Virginia

Some county lines seem arbitrary: just a government formality running through an otherwise homogenous community. The Wyandotte-Johnson county line does not fall into this category. In fact, it's hard to imagine two more different counties — they stand on opposite ends of every measure, from health to education levels to household income. 

Overland Park Kansas

Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach is beginning his 10th year in office, and this year looks to be a busy one, with plenty of development going on in the city. 

Gerlach spoke about some of those development projects, including an indoor skydiving facility he is excited to try out, in his State of the City address on Tuesday

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County

Since he was elected in 2013, Unified Government of Wyandotte County Mayor and CEO Mark Holland has been able to boast some impressive developments and job growth in the county.

Holland reiterated those successes in his State of the Government address Tuesday, making particular note of 4,000 new jobs created in 2014. He said that number represents about 30 percent of all new jobs in the state of Kansas.

Wichita State University Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives

As we continue our long-term exploration of lines that unite and divide our metro, a project we call Beyond our Borders, we’re turning an eye to the border between Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in Kansas.

Long noted for their differences (and rivalry), Wyandotte was at one time, at least in part, Johnson County.

The making of a state

Neil Nakahodo / for KCUR

As we embark on our next exploration for Beyond our Borders, our dive into lines that unite and divide our metro, we are now turning our attention to Wyandotte and Johnson counties.

As part of our Tell KCUR initiative, we recently asked: What do we get wrong about Wyandotte and/or Johnson Counties?

Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

Wyandotte County, Kan., claims the Kansas Speedway, Sporting Kansas City major league soccer and the Kansas City Renaissance Festival among its popular attractions.

While those seasonal experiences won’t be available until later in the year, the county offers other significant pleasures that can be thoroughly enjoyed this weekend – from delicious ethnic food and indoor water fun to fascinating historic sites and eye-opening prospects for nature enthusiasts.

Not been to the "Dotte" recently? Explore the possibilities. Your free time will thank you.

Even though both Wyandotte and Johnson Counties were founded with connections to Native American tribes, the two have evolved into dramatically different places.

As we pursue the next segment of our look into lines that unite and divide the metro, we're turning our attention the boundary between Wyandotte and Johnson Counties. What do you know to be true about these counties? What have you heard that isn't true? 

Tell KCUR: What do people get wrong about Wyandotte and/or Johnson Counties?

Wikimedia - CC

It's common knowledge among Kansas Citians that much of Johnson County, Kan., is suburban, while Kansas City, Kan., proper is an urban core.

What might not be common knowledge is that Overland Park, Kan., has a larger total population count and higher employment density than KCK. So is it still a suburb?

The DLC / Flickr-CC

Think of Johnson County as a flower – which, of course, many folks already do.

Better yet, make it a field of flowers, whose nectar is available to all – which it is, of course, no matter where you may live in the Kansas City area.

Wherever your head hits the pillow at the end of the day, get out this weekend and make your own Johnson County bouquet of fun. Which go-and-do activities to pick? Glad you asked.

1. Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art