What does your city smell like? Discover “smell walks”

What does your city smell like? Discover “smell walks”

By Alexandra Donaldson

When we wander our cities, the scents we notice tend to be negative smells—garbage, waste, sweat, etc. But smell mapping is attempting to change our perceptions of our urban scentscapes by drawing attention to the many different smells of a city and how they affect our perception of the space.

Kate McLean and her research partner Daniele Quercia were recently interviewed on CBC’s By Design where they spoke about their publication “Smelly Maps: The Digital Life of Urban Smellscapes” and about McLean’s smell walks, the method with which she gathers her data.

Smell walks are when you wander around a city and consciously experience the smells that you encounter, writing them down as you go. McLean outfits her smell walkers with a smell dictionary (since many people have trouble describing odours). Each city that was researched in the publication has a smell map, which was created through the fragmented perceptions of people like you and me who simply wandered through the city and recorded their smell impressions.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 12.11.19 PMBut why is this documentation important? What is to be gained from understanding the different smells of a city? Well, for starters, not much has been done in this area, despite the fact that smell is as important a sensory channel as the others.

Smell has the ability to calm, to invigorate, to recall memories and to ease stress—all of which could be utilized by designers, city planners, architects and others to help create spaces that are beautiful in more ways than just visual. A surprising outcome of this exercise is the awareness learned regarding how great and wonderful scents, as opposed  to air pollution, can play a truly positive role in our environmental experience, making us live better and happier.

To read the document in full click here.
To hear the CBC interview click here.

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Alexandra Donaldson is the editorial assistant at The Whale & The Rose and a freelance writer and content creator. Although she recently took up yoga in an effort to be a healthy adult, she still binge-watches cartoons on a regular basis and dreams of running away to a cottage in the woods. She has yet to nail down her favourite perfume, but knows that it smells green, earthy and maybe a little bit spicy, but definitely not sweet.