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Seeking slices of silence in a bustling Jax Hts.

Seekers of stillness participate in a "Transhistoria" tour as part of Stillspotting NYC: Queens in Jackson Heights. Photo by Kristopher McKay
TimesLedger Newspapers

In the old days, the garden community of Jackson Heights was considered a respite from stressful city life. Today, the high-density area is a veritable mixing bowl of cultures, where 138 languages are spoken.

The bustling nabe has been selected to play host to “Transhistoria” for “Stillspotting NYC: Queens” – launched Apr. 14 for four weekends through May 6 — an off-site exhibition of Guggenheim Museum’s innovative two-year architecture and urban studies programming and multidisciplinary project.

Cacophonous city noise and high anxiety in an urban setting versus the search for a peaceful escape from it all are concepts examined through out-of-the-box research, which includes the mapping of 311 noise complaints called in by New Yorkers.

It’s hard to imagine near-silence associated with New York City, yet Columbia University and the School of Visual Arts students have teamed up with the architects to investigate and translate urban issues through interactive maps and videos — all in the name of stillness — an unexpected notion, especially in a city that never sleeps.

Stillspotting NYC is organized by the Guggenheim Museum’s David van der Leer, assistant curator of architecture and urban studies, with Sarah Malaika, Stillspotting project associate.

“Noise and anxiety have a big impact on our lives, affecting the way we interact with others, the way we behave; and can have a serious impact on our health,” said van der Leer. “If we would think and act more consciously when designing city spaces and infrastructural systems or develop legislation and economic models for cities, we could improve our everyday lives drastically.”

Spearheaded by two forward-thinking architects at Brooklyn-based firm Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu, who discovered six “stillspots” within the crowded streets of Jackson Heights, the project encourages quality downtime and unplugging.

Stillspotting Queens has locals and visitors signing up for two-hour walking tours and gathering at cozy spots of relative serenity to enjoy urban storytelling in a park, someone’s living room, a courtyard and a diner. Themes of migration and adapting to life in a new community are woven into stories written and read out loud by Queens-based authors, professors, a chaplain and even two rappers.

Florian Idenburg, one of the architects, explained: “We are exploring the question of how the residents of Jackson Heights, who often have roots elsewhere, achieve a sense of home and localness in a post-national living situation? And what urged them to leave their old households and countries in the first place?”

Assorted vignettes unfold through personal accounts, as varied as the shops and eateries along 74th Avenue.

This vibrant community has provided inspiration for several poems penned by lifelong resident Maria Terrone, assistant vice president for communications at Queens College in Flushing. She was invited to participate as one of the writers in Stillspotting Queens.

“Stillspotting NYC does not set out to deliver readily available results, but is rather meant as a starting point of discussions on many levels, ranging from the granny-on-the-corner to city officials, with the hope for a better future,” said van der Leer.

Check in at the Stillspotting ticketing kiosk, just south of Jackson Heights–Roosevelt Avenue transit hub at 40-40 75th St. Visitors receive map and directions for self-guided tour. The exhibit is accessible April 28-29 and May 5-6 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Last tour starts at 5 p.m.

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