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I once woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of metal banging against a wall. Someone was yelling, but, in my half-asleep state, I waved it off as an unruly neighbor returning drunk from a party. When the noise didn’t stop, I listened closer. “Help!” he was yelling. My neighbor who uses a wheelchair had fallen. I got up and called 911 for him. That was perhaps the only time I was thankful for the thin walls of my condo building.

Having thin walls is a reminder that cities are jam-packed with people. While city living can be lonely, we’re rarely alone, even in our own homes. At times, the things we hear are eye-opening, offering an unsolicited glimpse into the private lives (sometimes too private) of our neighbors—and vice-versa. We can be drawn to their quirky habits, like one Redditor who, responding to a trending thread this week, said his neighbor likes to sing opera while doing the dishes. Another user recounted an “argument about money … [that] ended with a slammed door and one of them on a piano, hitting the keys like a maniac.”

The noise can disrupt your routine, and if gets repetitive enough, it can gnaw away at your sanity. In college, the guys above us were relentless with their late-night partying. Then randomly, we’d hear what seemed like someone taking a hammer to marble: First a loud thud, followed by what sounded like a cascade of tiny rocks tumbling down. To this day, it remains a mystery. Surely, they couldn’t be chiseling stone at 6 a.m.?  

Confronting neighbors about the noise is, as CityLab has written, a delicate art form, especially for a non-confrontational person like me. My next-door neighbor used to watch action films late into the night, his TV volume so high that I could feel the explosive rumbling in my room. After days of serious contemplation—am I being too sensitive?—I finally grabbed my hoodie one night, put on my best smile, and politely reminded him that some people had work the next day. We now greet each other warmly in the hallway.

It’s a good reminder that not all interactions through paper-thin walls have to be confrontational. Sometimes it can even help to acknowledge the strangeness of it all, as in this comment from another Redditor: “Someone sneezed. We said bless you. They laughed.”

Linda Poon

Mailbag:

Last week was Beach Week at CityLab, and I lamented the lack of fast, reliable, and affordable public transportation to our nation’s sandy shores. Twitter users shared similar woes from where they live, like Emily in Chapel Hill, North Carolina:

Then there’s this, from Jon in Brussels. Must be nice:

What we’re writing:

The California Beach Cruiser turned beachgoers into bike riders. ¤ Seriously, how did the clueless mayor in Jaws get re-elected? ¤ The vulnerability of Rockaway Beach. ¤ These are the maps that made us. ¤ Trans teens, unsheltered and unsure. ¤ Where do the workers of Martha’s Vineyard sleep? ¤ Hey Siri, find my friends. ¤ Keep English out of French, s’il vous plait. ¤ Scooters do many things, but they’re not ruining your historic town. ¤ The fictional map that brought me out of the blue.

What we’re taking in:

Nipsey Hussle understood cities better than you. (Streetsblog L.A.) ¤ Cheesecake Factory is the restaurant America deserves. (L.A. Times) ¤ Crossing the DMZ to become a K-pop star. (Washington Post) ¤ Anthony Bourdain’s best hits. (Entertainment Weekly) ¤ Grab a bat; competitive wiffle ball is a thing! (The Ringer) ¤ How the e-bike changed a woman’s life. (New York Times) ¤ The evolution of America’s national park branding. (Fast Company) ¤ That time Philly bombed its own people. (Vox) ¤ Caught in the cross-fire of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy battle: bubble tea. (Fortune)

View from the ground:

@kimzimm985 captured the CN tower between buildings in Toronto. @metromapas highlighted apartment balconies in Panama City. @bonche__ visited the Copenhagen waterfront and its asymmetric buildings. @p_adhita captured the high-rises of Sudirman, Jakarta

Showcase your photos with the hashtag #citylabontheground and we'll feature it on CityLab’s Instagram page or pull them together for the next edition of Navigator.

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