Scent and the City: Urban Planning Using Smellscapes

urban planningn using smellscapes

When I went on a smellwalk in Boston, I was interested to learn about how smell impacts our daily life. As someone with a keen sense of smell, this has always fascinated me.

Kate McLean, the leader of our smellwalk, recently wrote a paper with some other folks called Smelly Maps: The Digital Life of Urban Smellscapes.

Sadly, it doesn’t appear that the data from the Boston smellwalk was used in the paper. But it’s interesting to think about the possibilities of urban planning with a different approach to designing cities.

It’s not just physical landscapes that should be considered. Smellscapes should also be taken into account with urban planning. I love how they note “good fragrances” like in Japan. Below (with edits) are the recommendations to city planners.
One hundred sites in Japan have been declared as protected because of their ‘good fragrance’. However, the general situation in the rest of the world greatly differs. Urban planners to date have tended to think about smells in terms of management of bad odors, rarely considering preserving and celebrating the smells that people like. There are a number of ways that the urban smellscape can be altered; manipulating the air flow by changing the street layout, pedestrianization to alter traffic emissions, the creation of restorative environments through the planting of trees, greenspaces and waterways, and the strategic placement of car stopping points are just a few examples. City officials do not fully consider the opportunities presented by the sense of smell simply because they have been the victims of a discipline’s negative perspective. We hope that our work might help them rethink their approaches and use olfactory opportunities to create stimulating multisensory places.

I recall so many good smells while walking around Boston. If you’ve ever walked through the North End, you know what I mean! We do have large green spaces and a beautiful clean waterfront, but I wonder if even more could be done using smellscapes to make Boston an even better city.

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Image: Boston’s Smellwalk Map Route