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posted by hubie on Sunday June 19, @01:23PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the sweet-smell-of-the-country dept.

The growing field of sensory urbanism is changing the way we assess neighborhoods and projects:

When David Howes thinks of his home city of Montreal, he thinks of the harmonious tones of carillon bells and the smell of bagels being cooked over wood fires. But when he stopped in at his local tourism office to ask where they recommend that visitors go to smell, taste, and listen to the city, he just received blank stares.

"They only know about things to see, not about the city's other sensory attractions, its soundmarks and smellmarks," says Howes, the author of the forthcoming book The Sensory Studies Manifesto and director of Concordia University's Centre for Sensory Studies, a hub for the growing field often referred to as "sensory urbanism."

Around the world, researchers like Howes are investigating how nonvisual information defines the character of a city and affects its livability. Using methods ranging from low-tech sound walks and smell maps to data scraping, wearables, and virtual reality, they're fighting what they see as a limiting visual bias in urban planning.

[...] The best way to determine how people react to different sensory environments is a subject of some debate within the field. Howes and his colleagues are taking a more ethnographic approach, using observation and interviews to develop a set of best practices for good sensory design in public spaces. Other researchers are going more high-tech, using wearables to track biometric data like heart-rate variability as a proxy for emotional responses to different sensory experiences. The EU-funded GoGreenRoutes project is looking to that approach as it studies how nature can be integrated into urban spaces in a way that improves both human and environmental health.

[...] "Sensory perceptions are not neutral, or simply biological; whether we find something pleasant or not has been shaped culturally and socially," says Monica Montserrat Degen, an urban cultural sociologist at Brunel University London. Civic planners in both London and Barcelona are using her research on public-space perceptions and how "sensory hierarchies," as she refers to them, include or exclude different groups of people.

Degen cites the example of a London neighborhood where inexpensive eateries that served as hangouts for local youth were displaced by trendy cafes. "It used to smell like fried chicken," she says, but newer residents found that aroma off-­putting rather than welcoming. "Now it smells like cappuccinos."

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  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @01:51PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @01:51PM (#1254395)

    The Plateau neighborhood with its French Canadian populace is about the best place for smells. The St. Laurent Blvd has a lot of smoked meat restaurants/shops and other boutiques and bakeries.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @02:02PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @02:02PM (#1254397)

    Certainly within the City of Sydney, the touristy places promote the sensory aspects. Haymarket, The Rocks, The Domain -- those places have primarily non-visual recollections.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by looorg on Sunday June 19, @02:33PM (1 child)

    by looorg (578) on Sunday June 19, @02:33PM (#1254400)

    What is the smell of the urban city? Isn't it pretty much garbage and people? The smell of the bagels and coffee is fleeting. But there is always the smell of garbage, of gas fumes from vehicles, and people ... so many people squeezed into a small area. That is the urban aroma and it's not really very pleasant. The larger the city, the worse it is. London in that regard smells horrific, the and the air quality is horrible. The smell of London isn't cappuccinos it's fumes, garbage and people. The Thames river is starting to smell somewhat putrid to.

    That said there seems to be a thing, or trend, among the somewhat larger cities. They invest in their own sound etc. Cultural feelgood projects. When a logotype and a slogan just isn't enough anymore. The sound should be municipality money just burning.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @02:47PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @02:47PM (#1254401)

      This. Big cities are defined by the bad smell and the worn face of their dwellers.

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Sunday June 19, @03:15PM (7 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Sunday June 19, @03:15PM (#1254404)

    Half of the time, if you smell fresh baked bread at a bakery, it's a fake fragrance that comes in a spray can. The bakery doesn't want you to know the bread is industrial and just needs re-heating. Or that new car smell suspiciously emanating from that 200,000 15 year-old car for sale. Or that disgusting fake cinnamon scent you can't get away from in store after store during the "holiday season".

    Smells are engineered to get people to open up their wallets, and have been for decades. This is no different: if someone is trying to sell you real estate, or officials want to make the city more appealing on the cheap, they'll hit the spray can like retail stores do.

    • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Sunday June 19, @03:56PM (6 children)

      by Thexalon (636) on Sunday June 19, @03:56PM (#1254411)

      It's still a heck of a lot more pleasant than rural areas that actually smell like bull shit.

      Although when it comes to urban smells, I suspect one of the more memorable is drunkard's piss in the subway.

      Alcohol makes the world go round ... and round and round.
      • (Score: 3, Touché) by legont on Sunday June 19, @04:53PM (1 child)

        by legont (4179) on Sunday June 19, @04:53PM (#1254417)

        While cows are somewhat questionable, horseshit smells quite nice once one is used to it. But even cows are OK as long as it's not a concentration camp.

        Cities are way worse as any and all establishments are trying to push your genetic buttons by burning fat.

        I ride bike and smells I get is an important part of experience.

        "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
        • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Thexalon on Sunday June 19, @06:03PM

          by Thexalon (636) on Sunday June 19, @06:03PM (#1254430)

          When I said "bull", I meant "bull", which usually means feedlot, which means giant lagoons of the stuff [] which regularly produce toxic levels of dangerous gasses. I didn't mind the smell when I worked briefly on an organic free-range dairy farm, but those are an entirely different world from what tends to happen to the male bovines.

          Alcohol makes the world go round ... and round and round.
      • (Score: 0, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @04:55PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @04:55PM (#1254418)

        Times Square nigger piss is the worst.

        • (Score: 3, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @05:16PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @05:16PM (#1254421)

          Nazi scum should be locked up for life.

        • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @09:32PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @09:32PM (#1254464)

          Unfortunately, pissing, like breathing, is a required life function for mammals.

          We haven't learned yet how to deal with some of it.

          Like public places.

          We need to design decent pissoirs to process urea by biological microbial/plant based methods. The way wi do it now is akin to storing soaked pissed diapers in a closed pail so they ferment and stink.

          People have an unmet need. They do what they have to do. They piss in the street. They piss in public transportation. The dogs at least can usually find a tree, until the humans cut them all down.

          I believe we need to plant foliage for the purpose of promoting biological uptake of urea before it ferments into airborne ammonia. Just little alcoves trimmed into foliage so the humans can get relief too.

          I remember one popular social spot when I was a kid where the proprietor planted a bunch of shrubbery along the outdoor area of his establishment. It was kinda obvious by the arrangement of foliage that it had a purpose. Didn't take long for others to see.

          Had a little sink with a foot operated valve so one could wash hands, but if you went a little further around the corner, there were four little alcoves trimmed into the foliage on the other side. Always really green and lush with all that watering ( Southeast USA, Rural Alabama ).

          Maybe a bit of genetic engineering would produce plant and microbial life optimized for nitrogen uptake, as these plants will be growing in extremely nutrient rich environs. The prunings themselves, mulched, would make a potent fertilizer.

          Some people smell a stink in the subway.

          I smell a way to snare that smelly stuff, and route it somewhere some good comes of it.

      • (Score: 2) by looorg on Sunday June 19, @08:58PM

        by looorg (578) on Sunday June 19, @08:58PM (#1254454)

        Fertilizing the fields doesn't happen all the time. But the subway always smells like ass (or sweat, urine or just people). But as with most things I guess you eventually get used to it.

        It's not that rural smells are somehow more pleasant all the time, it's just better most of the time. That said there are very different rural smells to, inland or coastal, if there is a lot of farmland etc. But large cities always smell bad. If you can't smell it you have been there for to long. I guess if there is a heavy rain there are a few moment of freshness until you are hit by the smell of wet garbage and humid people.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @04:50PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @04:50PM (#1254416)

    Rotting alewives

  • (Score: 0, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @09:18PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, @09:18PM (#1254460)

    .destroy a city.

    Delhi for example with its unstoppable growing gabage dump. [] []
    The Ganges with its rotting corpses and Cola factories, unfit to be called Holy. [] []

    Not to just pick on India, every country has a growing serious pollution problem.
    American dirtiest states: [] []

    Maybe we need to focus on cleanup before spraying shit with rose water.
    We don't need a map to figure out what needs to be done, its rather obvious.

  • (Score: 1) by echostorm on Monday June 20, @03:12AM (1 child)

    by echostorm (210) on Monday June 20, @03:12AM (#1254507)

    One of my most vivid childhood memories of NYC was how much the entire city reeked of piss in the summertime. Not sure any amount of bagels cooking are going to cover up the more prominent 'smellmarks' of reality.

    • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Tuesday June 21, @02:18AM

      by Phoenix666 (552) on Tuesday June 21, @02:18AM (#1254803) Journal

      One of my most vivid childhood memories of NYC was how much the entire city reeked of piss in the summertime.

      The Port Authority is not the "entire city." It's a main entry point for B&T ("Bridge & Tunnel," meaning, "New Jerseyans") people who can't bear to wait for the bathrooms after a night of drinking in the Manhattan clubs.

      In the winter the city does not smell. In the spring you get the sweet scent of flowers and blossoming trees. In the summer you get the tang of the salt air from the harbor or Long Island Sound, with overlays of BBQ, charcoal smoke from pretzel stands, and the candied nuts carts. Each ethnic enclave has its signature scents, too. Spicy Italian sausage carts in Bay Ridge, Taco Trucks in Corona, Kimchi in Little Seoul. Yes, there's garbage sometimes. There's the dank smell of the subways that you get in any damp, underground space. There's the tar and fish of the piers, and the sulphur of airports or truck depots.

      In the fall you get the sweet rot of the leaves that fall in Central Park and roasted chestnuts.

      It's not worse than the countryside, just different. It's not worse than other cities, just different. Saigon, for example, has a reek that will curl your nose hairs at first.

      If you want a place that just smells pleasant, go to Kearny, NJ. It smells like fresh strawberries, and nobody has ever been able to explain why.

      Washington DC delenda est.
  • (Score: 2) by istartedi on Monday June 20, @04:01PM

    by istartedi (123) on Monday June 20, @04:01PM (#1254647) Journal

    When I first visited San Francisco in 2007, I was struck by how much better it smelled than DC. Despite being known as a repository of literal human feces and dirty needles in some quarters, I suspect that this is still true. San Francisco is scoured by wind-driven fog from the ocean and bay. DC is a humid sub tropical swamp. Trash left out in alleys festers in DC in ways that are probably not possible in San Francisco.

    San Francisco however, even before full-blown legalization would sometimes waft the smell of marijuana smoke in your direction. DC almost never did that.