City smells provide an insight into the make-up of a neighborhood as highlighted by Victoria Henshaw in her article about New York’s evolving smellscapes published earlier this summer. Some stores opened their doors wide onto the street, others were firmly shut but smells rush to fill a void, diffusing outwards as the doors open to customers. Some smells form odour trails, crossing each other forming new combinations like Ingold’s (2010) definition of of the world we inhabit as a what he calls “the meshwork of entangled lines of life, growth and movement” also conceptualised as a “texture of interwoven threads”. Other smells were more self-contained; inhabiting a vortex in space before volatilising into space.
Street corners afforded the richest combination of smells possibly indicating greater human activity. The strongest smells blocked all others from “view”; old fish on W 10th, watermelon / strawberry in the Scandinavian candy store on Christopher, intense leather and rubber from the fetish shop.
The “shared smells” belong neither inside nor outside – a warm wood, green leafy volatiles of the floristry stores, shared bakery aromas crossing an imaginary divide of a large serving-hatch open window. The smellmap reveals that this block is richly populated and each street has a unique smell character. On W 10th sedentary trash blends with wood and musty cellars after floristry and fabric softener reveal some human activity. Individual street activity, commerce and zoning can be read through their smells.
This map forms part of a series of New York City block maps completed over a number of years. In 2010 I located the “Smelliest Block” This year’s walk was in Brooklyn and covered in the New York Times. Next we will be smellwalking in Queens and possibly the Bronx. Contact me if you are interested in participating in 2015.