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Whither goest the suburbs?
Old 11-03-2013, 01:55 PM   #1
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Whither goest the suburbs?

Reuters TV | Born in the '50s, suburbs ready to retire

Author Leigh Gallagher who wrote "The End of the Suburbs" is interviewed by a reporter who can keep her mouth shut and let Ms. Gallagher talk.

My only time in the suburbs, as a child or adult, was one month In Lafayette, CA. I detested it, and got way happier when we moved across the hill to Berkeley.

I watched an interview with two Seattle mayor candidates this morning. Seattle includes a lot of low density housing that to me at least is indistinguishable from a suburb, except it tends to be closer and more diverse and pretty well served by public trans. Nevertheless, 95% of the questions pertained to the central area- downtown, Seattle Center, kind of the area between the stadiums south of Pioneer Square north to Amazon and Paul Allen's development of South Lake Union, east for 1-2 miles. When it was over, I flipped the dial and saw this interview.

I am an easy sell for books like Gallagher's, but I wonder how people who are very happy in the suburbs feel about it. Is the move back to the cities just a BS flash in the pan, soon to be reversed (if indeed it is happening)? To me, the only possible countermovement in attractive cities like Seattle with lots of high paid employment for young mostly single people would come from a very meaningful increase in violent crime.

What we mostly think of as "a suburb" mainly happened after WW2, and especially after the interstate highway building boom, although of course we have Southwestern CT and other large affluent suburban areas that originally depended and still depend to some meaningful extent on commuter train service. Growth of the suburbs also coincided with the post war baby boom, of which the max cohort reaches age 60 in 2017. What will this mean? More house than boomers need, more yard maintenance, little to interest people other than taking care of the homestead. And if someone becomes disabled, or divorced, it can become a rough and isolated way to live.

Of course few of my young neighbors today would be much help to me if I needed it, but at least my family and friends are close and if I am not really messed up I can get round well on public trans. I grew up going all over on public trans, and would never have enjoyed giving so much control to my mother, as modern kids often need to do, for play dates, rides to Little league games, school, etc. I walked most places, and rode the bus or my bike to others. I doubt my mother would have ever gotten me a play date with any of the friends who were most important to me.

Obviously people are attracted to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Boston, DC, Austin, San Francisco, Berkeley/Oakland, Portland, Seattle and some other fast growing urban cores -easy to judge from the rapid rent increases and home price appreciation way ahead of nearby suburban areas. But how about other parts of the country? Ms. Gallagher even expects Detroit to rebound.

Ha
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Old 11-03-2013, 02:08 PM   #2
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Well, when society built around the highways, much of the inner cities declined and the suburbs boomed. But the cost of commuting, and the gridlock on so many highways has people rethinking this.

In reality, suburbia may be threatened on both sides: By increasingly young and urban folks who prefer a car-free, "walkable" lifestyle and people who can work from home with just a telephone and Internet, meaning less need to be physically tied near the physical office location (and thus enabling more rural living as well). Add to that a general slowing (if not outright stopping) of continued increases in road projects to increase capacity, and perhaps some suburbs may go the way of parts of the inner city 50-60 years ago?
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Old 11-03-2013, 02:16 PM   #3
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Well, when society built around the highways, much of the inner cities declined and the suburbs boomed. But the cost of commuting, and the gridlock on so many highways has people rethinking this.
Reading this forum I noticed how many people hated their commutes even more than their jobs.

I remember living in Boston, there was a huge billboard on an apartment building beside the Charles River where the freeway headed out of town to the north, saying "If you lived here you'd be home by now!" I thought, well, if I didn't already live right here, I'd be easy to convince.

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Old 11-03-2013, 03:00 PM   #4
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Living in downtown San Francisco, I get a clear feeling that this is the territory of young, childless people. People with children can't afford the larger apartments, that are in short supply and therefore extremely expensive. I also see few older people living in the city, outside of Chinatown. I don't know whether it's because retirees are out-priced, or whether they find living in the suburbs more convenient (no groceries to lug around, parking available closer to their destination, etc...)
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Old 11-03-2013, 03:20 PM   #5
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I don't see the death of the Chicago suburbs anytime soon. A lot of young single people start out in the inner city with the other young single people and end up having families. I have heard some saying about there are plenty of strollers in yuppie neighborhoods but no kids bicycles, because families don't stay there. I didn't watch the video and maybe the author addresses this, but it is difficult in many cities to find good public schools that are easy to get into (vs the magnet schools where a tiny percentage of kindergarteners are scoring high to get in--and then those kids' families leave the city) or private schools that cost more than college. DD will stay in the city and is facing the school search now for their little one. She cannot even consider their neighborhood school with its safety issues (police walk kids across a gang dividing line) and class size and horrendously low test scores, and questions to officials at open houses for the future of the public schools go unanswered. A magnet school equally close admits 2 percent of the kids taking the test. I don't personally know anyone who has retired back to the city, but I do have city friends who left for suburbs in warm southern states.
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Old 11-03-2013, 06:14 PM   #6
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Add to that a general slowing (if not outright stopping) of continued increases in road projects to increase capacity, and perhaps some suburbs may go the way of parts of the inner city 50-60 years ago?
You obviously haven't been in DFW lately. Construction everywhere! Pretty soon we'll have enough capacity for 1990...
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Old 11-03-2013, 08:40 PM   #7
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Living in downtown San Francisco, I get a clear feeling that this is the territory of young, childless people. People with children can't afford the larger apartments, that are in short supply and therefore extremely expensive. I also see few older people living in the city, outside of Chinatown. I don't know whether it's because retirees are out-priced, or whether they find living in the suburbs more convenient (no groceries to lug around, parking available closer to their destination, etc...)
San Francisco is horrendously expensive, perhaps partly because of rent control. Seattle is cheaper, and there are still old bungalows that are being cleared and replaced with attractive or not so attractive townhomes. The good looking ones that are central are $1mm and up, ugly ones built on smaller footprints are cheaper. Neither of my kids wants to leave the city. The older one has plenty money to send his child to private school, the younger one I think will have to go public, but they do live in what is likely a safe area, though that does not mean that the public schools will be OK. I don't have enough money to help financially, though I can do some pick up and after school duty. Like Bestwifeever said above, I see little kids all around, but most of the teenagers seem to be underclass. My neighborhood has lots of private schools, which seem to have students all the way to 18 or so. They are likely from nearby posh neighborhoods, though still in city. I don't see many of these kids walking down the streets, but since this is a university neighborhood I see plenty of college age students walking back and forth. Some students across the alley from me have a townhouse, and last night they were partying long after I went to sleep. But many of these students may not even be from in-state, let alone in the city.

I saw Sam Zell interviewed by Maria Bartiromo a few weeks ago. He said all the cities need to do to be home free is to make AAA schools. He is of course interested, but even if he is correct, it may be impossible to find the political will to take on the unions and reform schools.

I myself went to a magnet school which was one of the best experiences of my life. There were essentially no slackers. I either rode with a classmate, or took a city bus to school. I think when I turned out for sports, I found a ride home with someone else who lived near my home, but I cannot exactly remember.

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Old 11-03-2013, 09:03 PM   #8
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Thanks for a thought provoking subject and the worthwhile video...
As a former suburban resident, I found it interesting to see the "urban" suburbs and the "suburban" suburbs delineated. We lived in Lisle, Il. about 25 miles out of Chicago... a 40 to 50 minute drive. At the time we moved in, in 1979, there was a large commuter population, but, today, (empirical observation) the city, in effect, moved to the suburbs, with a High Tech Corridor, providing thousands of jobs. This had the effect of making the suburb a more or less self contained city. This happened in many other Greater Metropolitan Chicago suburbs.

As an adjunct to the "city/suburb" discussion, comes the subject of independent smaller cities, which grew up with America, but are not either metropolitan or suburban... where most of our own life has been lived. Our current Central Illinois town is self contained, with all services except for major cultural or entertainment magnets. Travel is no more than a mile or two in any direction, and while there are no major employers, yet the wage scale is wide enough to support upper middle incomes, while poverty and crime is very low.

There appears to be a certain ebb and flow of change, in many population centers, often based on changes in the economy. I recall some period, I think the mid 1980's going through the area north of Fort Worth, and seeing dozens if not hundreds of new empty high rise apartment buildings. Clusters of developments with 10 or more multiple building complexes, and no residents. At the same time, I watched huge residential suburban developments outside of Sacremento.... being filled as rapidly as they were being built... and no major employment in either place, except with a 1/2 hr to 1 hour commute.

Looking to the future... What effect will the economy have on the current move toward the cities? Will the financial centers continue to exist? Will the cultural and entertainment "businesses" continue to be supported? What is the core employment for today's cities?

Another part of the subject might be "What constitutes the "Cities"? New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia are quite different from Dallas/Fort Worth Atlanta, Houston , or Phoenix.

What DID happen in Detroit?... and which cities are at risk for the same kind of fate? The real estate recovery is quite different in most of Florida's major cities, as well as some of the more recent "boomtowns" in Nevada and Arizona. Despite the current hype, values still well below 8 years ago.

All in all, the article makes much sense, based on the factors of cost, accessibility, and quality of life, but I believe that the the suburbs that "goest" toward the cities, will be limited to those cities with the most dense populations, and with more wealth.
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Old 11-04-2013, 06:29 AM   #9
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To me, the only possible countermovement in attractive cities like Seattle with lots of high paid employment for young mostly single people would come from a very meaningful increase in violent crime.
I worry about the impact of tax cuts and an increasingly hostile attitude towards supposedly unsustainable safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, SS, ACA. That coupled with the increasing wealth divide could potentially contribute to a return to the crime rates of decades ago. This might make inner cities a horror show in my twilight years. On the other hand, the youth migration inward and the exodus of the poor might result in those same pressures leading to a crime boom in the ring suburbs where the poor are increasingly concentrating.

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Obviously people are attracted to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Boston, DC, Austin, San Francisco, Berkeley/Oakland, Portland, Seattle and some other fast growing urban cores -easy to judge from the rapid rent increases and home price appreciation way ahead of nearby suburban areas.
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I don't see the death of the Chicago suburbs anytime soon. A lot of young single people start out in the inner city with the other young single people and end up having families. I have heard some saying about there are plenty of strollers in yuppie neighborhoods but no kids bicycles, because families don't stay there.
I am stunned by the cost to live in DC and just as amazed at the continuing increase of kids. There is a fair amount of school age exodus (for better public schools) yet a lot of people choose to stay utilizing private schools and, increasingly, public schools. The current net effect is a concentration of wealthier households as people age (those who can afford private schools stay) but as/if public schools continue to turn around that may slack off a bit. Another factor pushing wealthier inner city cores is the empty nest returnee factor. There are quite a few well off retirees selling their houses and moving back to city apartments, condos, row houses.
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Old 11-04-2013, 06:44 AM   #10
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The US is a big country with a large and growing population, we can find examples of urban and suburban success and failure. How well or poorly an urban or suburban area is managed has much to do with it's prosperity, and that of it's residents. City life is still challenging for families but attracts singles.

Where the jobs are makes such a difference. I don't know what the current trend is in telecommuting, but typically people will go live where they can find work.
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Old 11-04-2013, 07:38 AM   #11
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People who live in cities just can't understand why everyone else doesn't. I heard this from a few friends when I lived in Austin. Pretty sure all of them were either single or childless. When I first lived there, I looked adjacent to downtown and didn't like what I saw, so I took an apartment nearby. As my leases expired I kept moving further out until I bought a house in a suburb. I know my tastes aren't typical of everyone, but I'm not the only one who has very little desire to live in the middle of a city. Apparently the numbers are showing that many do, but I'm not sure that's a trend that will last.

Telecommuting and flex hours help with the commuting issues. I never had a job inside a city once I got out of school. I think other areas will identify what really attracts people to city centers and incorporate those things as best they can. I see senior centers with more and more amenities within their community so they don't have to venture out in the streets. Young singles will likely always congregate in the cities but I don't see a long-term attraction for families. Maybe the demographics of the US has changed enough that the typical family is no longer typical.
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Old 11-04-2013, 07:38 AM   #12
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..........What DID happen in Detroit?...........
My observation from a 25 mile distance is that the upper and middle classes moved out to the ring suburbs, leaving the largely poor and uneducated to run a 138 square mile city, with minimal leadership and tax base.

There will be endless argument over the cause of the exodus, with some truth to all theories.
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Old 11-04-2013, 08:27 AM   #13
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As a former suburban resident, I found it interesting to see the "urban" suburbs and the "suburban" suburbs delineated.
This describes our situation - we live in the Uburb's, which is midway between a 'real' suburbs and the city, and we find it ideal. We have hills in our backyard, but we're minutes from our own town's vibrant city center, a three mile bike ride to a large university, and within 15 driving minutes of a several professional stadiums/arenas and major amusement parks.

I found living in the suburbs ideal when we were raising our young children, but at this point in our lives I want access to good restaurants, good entertainment and everything else that one finds in the city, but without having to necessarily live in the city. The Uburbs are where we feel comfortable for now because it gives us a little bit of both environments.
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Old 11-04-2013, 09:40 AM   #14
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Where I live, the suburbs seem to be adapting to change. There is more PUD development with self contained communities that include shopping and entertainment within walking distance from the neighborhoods. If the township follows through with the plans, it will have 5 of these central shopping/entertainment/office park areas. Two already exist. My home is a mile away from one that is yet to be developed, but the land was just purchased. I live in a place where two cities are growing together and devouring smaller towns. I suppose the city, is coming to us.

Some of the big cities this thread has been talking about, are very people dense already. I'm not really sure how many people could move in from the out lying areas without building taller (or subterranean) housing units. I expect the cities will keep expanding out and some of the industries will also move out. Then the city limits become broader. Just like they have been doing for the past couple hundred years. If a city is going to be the city of the future, with all jobs, companies and people packed into a tight and efficient space, I think it will have to be a new city built from the ground up with these goals in mind. Too me, it seems reworking the current mega cities is just too expensive.

A guy I work with, just moved back from NYC. He paid more in rent/insurance/utilities for his tiny apartment (600 sq ft), than I pay for mortgage/insurance/property tax/utilities on a fairly large house (4600 sq ft). It still took him over an hour to ride a couple of subways to get into our NY office. My commute is 35 mins to travel 25 miles. His apartment had 15 amp service for the entire apartment. A/C was not really on option if he wanted to leave the fridge on. A nicer apartment would have cost at least twice as much. Many companies have offices outside of the over crowded and very expensive cites and some people seem to be moving to use them. For whatever reasons, many companies like mine, are no longer paying as large a pay differential for where you work. Since you can telecommute, you decide where to live. Even when we paid a differential, it was no where near cost of living. We used to have a Menlo Park office. Their workers were paid about 20% more for the same job compared to those of us working in the main office in Ohio. The cost of living difference was actually about 300% at the time.
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Old 11-04-2013, 09:54 AM   #15
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Thank you for starting such an interesting thread. The suburbs still depend of the cheap carbon hydro-fuel technologies that don’t (even with fracking) seem to have a long shelf life. As the costs of transportation increase, the suburbs will further lose their appeal. Fuel costs, transportation gridlock, and demographics all appear to be trends working against those pursuing the lush lawns of the suburban utopia.

I currently reside in the Philly suburbs, and I find life stultifying and I plan on eventually migrating to center city. Luckily, the train into the city is within walking distance and runs frequently enough to provide some escape. For shopping and most local errands, one is tethered to the automobile. The strip malls, shopping centers, and muffler shops along route 30 are demoralizing. Unfortunately, the car has made Americans accept shoddy architecture that will not last long after it is fully depreciated by the corporate bean counters. Luckily for me being retired I plan my shopping jaunts on weekdays during the off peak hours. Other than a safe place to raise kids, I cannot see any appeal in the suburbs.
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Old 11-04-2013, 09:55 AM   #16
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People who live in cities just can't understand why everyone else doesn't. I heard this from a few friends when I lived in Austin. Pretty sure all of them were either single or childless.
It all depends on where you sit. From my perspective, friends in the suburbs could never understand why I liked living in the city. My friends in the city (most of whom had kids) were always second guessing whether they would be doing their kids a better turn by moving to a suburban house. Now that we are in our 60s lots of people recognize the positive aspects of city living.
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Old 11-04-2013, 11:10 AM   #17
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People who live in cities just can't understand why everyone else doesn't. I heard this from a few friends when I lived in Austin. Pretty sure all of them were either single or childless. When I first lived there, I looked adjacent to downtown and didn't like what I saw, so I took an apartment nearby. As my leases expired I kept moving further out until I bought a house in a suburb. I know my tastes aren't typical of everyone, but I'm not the only one who has very little desire to live in the middle of a city. Apparently the numbers are showing that many do, but I'm not sure that's a trend that will last.

Telecommuting and flex hours help with the commuting issues. I never had a job inside a city once I got out of school. I think other areas will identify what really attracts people to city centers and incorporate those things as best they can. I see senior centers with more and more amenities within their community so they don't have to venture out in the streets. Young singles will likely always congregate in the cities but I don't see a long-term attraction for families. Maybe the demographics of the US has changed enough that the typical family is no longer typical.
Largely agree. I grew up in the 5 boros of NYC and have moved to progressively less dense places as I got older and had a family. We are in a burb now that has rail access to the city center (how I commute), excellent schools, reasonable cost of living, and pretty much any amenity I could want within 10 or 15 minutes. Why exactly would I want to pay much higher costs to live in a crowded, polluted environment with crappy schools and higher crime?

Contrast this to my sister, a lover of urban places. They pay an exorbitant rent in Brooklyn for a crappy 3rd floor walk-up. They have an 18 month old daughter and are thinking about #2, but it will be a stretch on their income (and BIL makes over 100k) and pretty tight in their apartment (I think my basement has about the same square footage). The schools right near them are OK, but they are not guaranteed a spot in them. They struggle to save money to buy a place, and when they go looking in a fit of optimism they see things like a postage stamp 3BR townhome for 700k in a "gentrifying" (read: its not as dangerous and crappy as it used to be) area.

Oh boy, let me sign up for that urban dream...

Actually, left to my own devices I would be in a rural area. DW and the kids would never go for it.
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Old 11-04-2013, 11:24 AM   #18
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I live in San Jose, and get up to San Francisco about once a month. There's a certain appeal for me to living in a big city, but I think there's one prevalent thing that would always prevent me from doing so:

Shared walls.

I cannot STAND noisy neighbors. I don't mind outside city noise, like cars driving by, or stuff like that. But every apartment I ever lived in, I always had a problem with one or more noisy neighbors. You know the kind...the inconsiderate idiots playing their TVs, stereos, guitars, etc, too loud, and at all hours of the night.

When I finally bought my first house in Colorado way back in 1996, I deliberately chose not to live in Colorado Springs, but rather up in Teller County to the west, on a home on 2 acres just so I wouldn't have neighbors right up next to me. I loved it.

Since that time, I've purposely never lived in a shared wall dwelling again. When I moved back to Silicon Valley, I ruled out living in apartments, condos, duplexes, or townhomes...anything with shared walls. I only looked at renting single-family homes.

If there was a way to make a shared-wall dwelling like a condo completely soundproof from the adjacent units, I might consider it. But considering the tissue-paper construction that passes for walls nowadays, you could probably put your ear up to the wall and hear the neighbors talking (no joke - I could do that in every shared wall place I was in).

I think the only way I could live in a city is to still have a single-family home on a large enough lot there was still separation from the homes next door. Unlike in San Francisco, where even a SFH is still jutted right up against the home next door.

So...probably never any city living for me. I need my space.
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Old 11-05-2013, 06:44 AM   #19
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Shared walls.

I cannot STAND noisy neighbors.
Same here, and that's why I'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming into apartment living again. My first apartment, built in the 1950's, was actually pretty quiet even though I was right next to the elevator. But the two after that one were horrible and I swore I'd never again live in an apartment or even a row house.
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Old 11-05-2013, 08:51 AM   #20
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IThere's a certain appeal for me to living in a big city, but I think there's one prevalent thing that would always prevent me from doing so:

Shared walls.

I cannot STAND noisy neighbors. I don't mind outside city noise, like cars driving by, or stuff like that. But every apartment I ever lived in, I always had a problem with one or more noisy neighbors. You know the kind...the inconsiderate idiots playing their TVs, stereos, guitars, etc, too loud, and at all hours of the night.

When I finally bought my first house in Colorado way back in 1996, I deliberately chose not to live in Colorado Springs, but rather up in Teller County to the west, on a home on 2 acres just so I wouldn't have neighbors right up next to me. I loved it.

Since that time, I've purposely never lived in a shared wall dwelling again. When I moved back to Silicon Valley, I ruled out living in apartments, condos, duplexes, or townhomes...anything with shared walls. I only looked at renting single-family homes.
+1000

This is, to me, *the* deal breaker when it comes to more dense housing. I would love the lack of yard maintenance, I think, but sharing walls and my history of bad luck with noisy neighbors pretty much rules that out. I owned a condo in San Jose from 1989 to 1997, and the folks upstairs (a mother and daughter) were always playing loud music and dancing or exercising to it...and they loved the volume and bass. I shouldn't be able to know what song is playing if I'm not inside their home.
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