Project Details

Smelly Maps

Using social media data to map the ‘smellscapes’ of entire cities

By University of Cambridge

Project URL:

  • Environment & Sustainability

Smelly Maps is on a mission to improve the way we experience our cities. The team of researchers behind the project started out by gathering smell-related words from folk walking around their city. Synthesising these notes resulted in the first English-language urban smell dictionary of 285 words. 

These words form the basis of an interesting proposal: to create interactive ‘smellscapes’ of urban environments, and make city planners take note and action to deal with odours from new constructions and infrastructure. Smelly Maps plans to take a hard-to-measure experience – smell – and allow us all to celebrate the intricate play on our senses that results from our daily city lives. 

Smell doesn’t have to be negative. The team (comprising researchers from Cambridge and Torino Universities, Yahoo Labs and the Royal College of Arts) has noted that two cities, Barcelona and London, both have two base notes: emissions and nature. The goal is to maximise the latter, while suggesting street layout changes, pedestrianisation and tree planting to better deal with the former. These and other cities also have middle notes (animal smells, for example, close to zoos) and local hotspots of bad odour. 

The human nose can distinguish over a trillion different odours. Simplifying and mapping these smells – through open data expressed in an accessible format – and comparing the smellscapes with air quality indicators yields results that are invaluable to the urban planners and architects that Smelly Maps is looking to empower. 

With 285 words to play with, Smelly Maps is also soon launching a service where you can tailor your own experience and create ‘smelfies’ – adding captions and tags to location-aware photos on social media to help all of our noses. Take a look at the website to find out more.

Last updated: 14th of September, 2015

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