Crowdsourcing the Quiet

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Cities are fundamentally shared spaces. Whether it’s in parks, plazas, or public libraries–we gather together and become something bigger. It is in these shared spaces that we have historically generated some of the most influential cultures, disruptions, and ideas that the world has ever seen.

Jason Sweeney snuggles his ear buds into his ears, pulls up his hoodie, hits play on his iPod, and slides underneath the wave-like public art piece in between the bank building and the public laneway in Adelaide, Australia. There’s just enough room for one body there. Soon enough, it feels like a warm, temporary bed, even on a cold day. “It’s a bit like a personal cathedral,” he explains.

Sweeney, a self-described recluse by nature, has been seeking out quiet spaces in big urban landscapes ever since he moved to the busy heart of Melbourne in 2007. The apartment he lived in was underground, no windows and no natural air. He didn’t last long in that bunker-like atmosphere, but it did inspire him to start thinking about how much he craved silence and quiet, even as much as he, a musician and performer, loved the boom and bang of the nightclub.

“Some people think cities are only places of noise,” Sweeney explains, “but I think they have the potential to provide both chaos and calm.”

It’s much easier to find noise, at present, but Sweeney and his team of designers and artists are trying to change that through the Stereopublic project. With support from City 2.0 Award and the Creative Australia initiative, they will build an online space–likely web and smartphone based–where people can essentially geo-locate and crowd-source quiet spaces.

Their aim is to increase the “sonic health” of the city—both for everyday introverts, but also for people with disabilities, like autism and schizophrenia, who crave less sensory stimuli. Sweeney, a sound artist, also has aspirations to get participants to record their own sound and/or voices in these spaces, that he will remix and make into a gift to send back to them.

Though he’s not a religious person, Sweeney recognizes “the spiritual layer” to the project; religious institutions are often some of the most silent spaces in an otherwise bustling city.

To be sure, creating a mapping platform that depends on others is a leap of faith. “This project won’t happen unless the public participates,” Sweeney admits.

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