Jackson Heights: Affect of a Multi-cultural Crossroads

For my ecology project, I chose Jackson Heights and Roosevelt Avenue in Queens as my major area of focus and observation. Located in the heart of Queens, Jackson Heights is arguably the most culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood in the city. Its borders are clearly defined, with the overhead train tracks above Roosevelt Avenue marking its southernmost border. Neighboring areas include Astoria, Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Flushing. As of 2015, the population of Jackson Heights consisted of 57% Hispanic, 19.8% Asian, 14.3% White, and 6.5% Black (Statistical Atlas). This overwhelming concentration of diverse ethnic groups has largely contributed to the area’s rise in popularity among New Yorkers and tourists as they can easily experience a plethora of distinct cultures within the length of a few blocks. Also, the area’s reputation for exquisite and authentic cuisine preceeds itself, as it has become one of the hottest destinations for food over the past few years.

During my first visit to the location, I immediately felt a vibe that was very different from that of Manhattan, but eerily similar to the environment I experienced when I lived in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. I started by going down Roosevelt Avenue, following the train tracks accompanied by the occasional noises indicative of a 7 train passing through. From 60th street leading up to 82nd street, I saw signs of restaurants, storefronts, and local businesses and street vendors signifying various cultures, and was somewhat awestruck by the close proximity of their co-existence. Despite Jackson Heights’ ostensible communal amalgation of cultures, though, one of the most significant takeaways from my visit was that the neighborhood felt very isolated from the rest of the borough and the city. The many distinct actants in this tightly-knit cluster of diverse cultures serve as a sort of organism that has a strong sense of identity, and in a sense, self-serving. In “Vibrant Matters”, Jane Bennett claims that “an assemblage owes its agentic capacity to the vitality of the materialities that constitute it” (Bennett, 34).

As I walked around the neighborhood, there were glimpses of gentrification indicated by conglomerate chains, vestiges from the economic capital that is New York City. Still, local businesses and culturally specific storefronts dominated the space, and I could constantly hear multiple languages being spoken at the same time. My experience of the area was mostly positive and informative, but my research of the area, which showed a history and penchant for high crime  rates and low quality of life, hindered my overall enjoyment of the visit. Though I did not consciously think about this underlying precarity, I could detect myself trying to see through the facade of the multi-cultural commercial hotspot and look for signs of precarious indicators. As Thomas Brennan writes in “The Transmission of Affect”, a negative affective experience could stem from “the draining of energy off of cumulative environmental stresses” (6). He also defines “affect” as a “physiological shift accompanying judgment” (5). My preconceived notion of Jackson Heights has influenced my attitude towards the area and thus prevented me from fully getting an unadulterated impression. What resulted was that I had formed a conflicting image of the ecology, as on the surface it seems to be a vibrant and prosperous location representative of a crossroads of the world, but on the other hand there is high potential for harm and instability in the area as indicated by historical data.

In the coming weeks, I aim to explore Jackson Heights and Roosevelt Avenue more thoroughly and examine the neighborhood’s precarity through the lens of affect. I will attempt to document the intricate ecology of the interactivity between cultures as well as how its contrasting reputations manifest themselves through audio and visual media.


Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things.” Duke University Press, 2010.

Brennan, Thomas. The Transmission of Affect. 2004.


~ by alanshen21 on February 15, 2018.

4 Responses to “Jackson Heights: Affect of a Multi-cultural Crossroads”

  1. I award this blog the “Most Informative” award as I learned much from the statistics attached to the blog post, in addition to the detailed descriptions of the area in which the writer was exploring.

    – Adil Akbar

  2. Most Informative: This post provided a lot of evidence of gentrification. The first paragraph in particular helped me understand the environment statistically.

  3. the most informative one. Very detailed infos flow to me.

  4. Most informative, because of the statistics and information about gentrification.

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