A snippet of McLean’s Astor Place smell map
All the rain this weekend in New York City stunk. Do sunny days stink too? Kate McLean can give us the definitive answer. McLean, a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal College of Art in London, has created an extensive system of urban “smellscape” maps based on her olfactory research. For instance, after studying her Astor Place, pedestrians are much better off walking north and south on 2nd Avenue, which smells of floral perfume and grass, versus walking up and down Broadway, which is loaded with eau de subway exhaust.
So what’s NYC’s smelliest hood?
Map Showing Location of Odor Producing Industries of New York and Brooklyn, circa 1870 (“Charles F. Chandler Papers,” Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library)
A stench map today would include things like urine, rotting pizza, cigarettes and flavored vapors, and whatever unidentified odor of the day is pouring out of the subway. And while these are clearly unpleasant, at least they can be neutralized with some soap and water or the passing of time. But in the 19th century, the stenches of the city were far more permanent, stemming from the various industrial sites across Manhattan and Brooklyn (the five boroughs weren’t yet consolidated).
CityLab has uncovered an historic map from 1870 that shows the locations of New York’s odor-producing industries, including oil refineries, slaughter houses, fat renderers, and gas works. In the 19th century, it was believed that foul odors carried diseases, so the New York City Metropolitan Board of Health created the map of stenches (then known as “offensive trades”) to pinpoint the areas affected.
What did this mean for Brooklyn?
, Tue, September 16, 2014
New York City stinks, yes, but this city of ours is rich in smells like no other. To document the odors that linger, excite and nauseate inhabitants, British multi-sensory artist Kate McLean and her army of sniffers are running around town with their noses to the wind—and deep in trashcans. McLean has so far mapped a block of Greenwich Village and her latest jaunt took her and her team out to Bedford Avenue, where she found the most offensive odor to be “the aroma of a marijuana joint”. Not convinced?
Her findings here