Smell and the City

Urban smell enthusiasts

Smell and the City in the New York Times and New Scientist


Image by Tim Enthoven © New York Times 2014 

As the weather has warmed up and those smell molecules are bouncing around and increasingly tickling our trigeminal nerves, stimulating our olfactory receptors, and on occasion, kicking-in our gag response mechanisms, I thought it only fair to try and highlight some of the more positive roles that smells can play in our experiences, perceptions and knowledge of cities.

Read my resulting article in the New York Times (24 June) also available online here, and including reference to Kate McLean’s smellmap of New York’s smelliest block, below.


smelliest block

New York’s Smelliest Blocks © Kate McLean 2011


I also wrote a longer description including more science of smellscape experience in a recent article for the New Scientist (7 June) available here, and drawing from my experiences of Istanbul’s Grand Bazarre back in April, gained whilst leading a smellwalk with a local academic colleague as part of a student field class.

One of my students, a Chinese national, reported how she did not like the feel of the walk from the Grand Bazaar down to the Spice Market; “There are too many people” she said “it is just like being back in China!” For me, it was amazing experience: varied, rich and strong smells all adding to the overall feel of this amazing city.



The walk from Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market





4 comments on “Smell and the City in the New York Times and New Scientist

  1. Phil Phelan
    June 24, 2014

    Kate are the Ginko trees being planted in the Bronx Male trees and don’t have the smell or is the flowers/fruit from the female trees the problem?

  2. smellandthecity
    June 24, 2014

    Hi Phil,
    I’m Victoria (Kate is the sensory designer who created the smelliest block map). From what I can gather, the gender of the tree is a little misleading as the trees can start male, then become female, but yes, it is the fruit of the tree that smells, and therefore officially female.
    Hope that helps

  3. SJ Mills
    June 24, 2014

    After enjoying a great variety of scents, though dramatically different from NYC’s, at my rural home in Northern New York for 24 years I can attest to being able to differentiate them by season or location. Balsam Poplar on the back woods lane in the spring is amazing – alone worth a visit during that season, there’s a lovely boggy scent in the wet corner of the south field, my wife, Jill, and I are now trying to locate Sweet Grass in that field by its delicious scent and, of course, the many different flowers that Jill has cultivated over the years all bring us a nosey kind of happiness over the growing season. Even Winter offers its own scents, though more subtle. Jill has declared for years that our location smells good all year long, and she’s correct. Thank the farm gods that we don’t have a manure farm in the neighborhood. So I can relate to the cerebral message of this article, but I’m not following it with my own nose. It is very happy where it is right now.

  4. DW
    June 24, 2014

    The worst smells are those of dogs. It is note nought to pick-up after a dog. One should have to clean the area and also neutralize urine. We are supposed to be civilized.

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This entry was posted on June 24, 2014 by in Smell and the City Project.


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