Have you ever walked by a particularly strong stench at a street corner and suddenly had the urge to give it a closer smell to really dissect its nuances? Well, us neither. But a few brave pioneers have taken it upon themselves to create their own smellmaps, fascinating guides that showcase a city’s range of olfactory experiences. In this interactive New York Times map of Manhattan (from 2009 but still awesome), Jason Logan provides encyclopedic entries for each neighborhood’s smellscape.
According to Logan, the clean streets of the Upper East Side smell of “fragrant, flowering bush, fresh plants, shampoo-y deodorant, soft strawberry ice cream, freshly watered ferns, and a medicinal-smelling person” while Tribeca offers a more complex aroma composed of diesel, tangy metal, onion rings, and blood, among others. Similar detail is given to every Manhattan neighborhood except the Upper West Side, which went unsniffed.
We were reminded of Logan’s map by recent coverage of a Williamsburg smellwalk, a guided tour of the area’s odors led by “multi sensory artist and designer,” Kate McLean. Volunteers on the tour helped collect field data for a forthcoming smellmap of New York using nothing more than a notepad and their noses. For an idea of what the final product might look like, take a look at McLean’s map of a stretch of Broome Street in the Lower East Side that New York Magazine termed the smelliest block in NYC.
McLean has already produced other smellmaps of Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and Newport, RI, that are all beautiful portrayals of how urban aromas can intensify and spread. If you would like to be a part of her next smellwalk, which will be in Queens, contact her at her website.
The oldest smellmap we could find dates all the way back to 1910, when the Metropolitan Sewer Commission conducted an extensive odor analysis of the NYC sewer system.
We hope these maps inspire you to pay a little more attention to the smells of your city next time you’re out. Your nose will thank you.