The Current

Mapping urban smellscapes: Designing cities through scent

Urban designers and architects have focused on how things look but what about smells? According to a school in urban design, letting the nose lead should be part of designing our cities with the sense of smell in mind. Our project, By Design, sniffs this one out.
Our project By Design experiences the city in a whole new way, by mapping its smells - fragrant, and otherwise. (Rossano Schifanella, OSM and CartoDB )

We're nearing the end of our season-long project By Design, and we have yet to talk about designing for smell.

It's a sense that is not usually considered in the way sight and sound are in urban design...but smell in the city can ruin a good thing.

Most of us don't think about smell unless it's really good...or really bad.

Kate McLean, on the other hand, thinks about smell quite a bit. She's an artist and designer whose work is all about smell and the role it plays in the urban landscape.

McLean's co-authored research project "Smelly Maps - The Digital Life of Urban Smellscapes" maps the smells of cities. And she hopes her smelly maps will influence urban designers — and get them to take our olfactory responses into account when making design decisions.

Kate McLean is a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Art. She joined us from Cambridge, England. Her research partner, Daniele Quercia, is a computer scientist who researches urban computing. He was in Barcelona, Spain.

Sensory psychologist Avery Gilbert says that smell is very important to our mood and sense of wellbeing. He joined us from Fort Collins, Colorado.

And for a sense of how the sense of smell is — or is not — guiding urban planning decisions right here in Canada, we spoke to Halifax Chief Planner Bob Bjerke. He says that smell is a difficult thing to address in cities but that is does come up — usually in the form of complaints.

Have you ever contended with strong smells where you it good or bad? Tweet us @thecurrentcbc with #bydesigncbc, post on our Facebook page, or email us.

This segment was produced by The Current's Acey Rowe.