All the Reasons to Map a City's Smells

"Smell-mapping" is gaining attention from urban planners, data scientists, and nature conservationists alike.
February 18, 2017, 5am PST | Elana Eden
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments
Sidra Monreal Photography

Next week, artist Kate McLean will lead "smellwalks" through London, inviting participants to guess at mysterious scents and sniff strangers (with their consent.)

McLean is an artist, but her work is part of a data science project that could have implications for real estate and virtual reality tech. At, researchers track keywords on social media to create digital "smellscapes"—color-coded maps marked red for emissions, green for nature, and so on.

Citymetric explores the possible applications of this work—like enhancing tours of national parks, or improving virtual reality technology by introducing "a full sphere of perceptions of a space."

And, if home values reflect "the positivity of the environment," smell-mapping could even affect real estate. One researcher hopes to work with cities on "interventions" in places with low-scoring smells, especially if those odors correspond to potential health risks. In part for that reason, the project measures a place's smell against people's perceptions of it, ranking places' "Likeability". For instance:

The Bayshore Freeway in San Francisco, for example, predominantly smells of emissions, according to the data … The emotion most commonly affiliated with the freeway is "sadness."

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 in Citymetric
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email