Summer Streets Smellmapping Astor Place NYC

Odours and opinions are the key components of a smellscape map, and New York has both in abundance. “Smellmap Astor Place”, commissioned by NYC Department of Transportation Art Summer Streets programming team, added curiosity and calculated contention to the Astor Place Rest Stop over 3 consecutive Saturdays in August 2017.

Primary smell research, conducted via human sniffs, was gleaned from the noses of Summer Streets employees and Village Alliance during April, May and June 2017 resulting in a labelled Smellmap of the neighborhood. Notable whiffs included “Gym people”, “pretentious coffee roast” and “food trucks – Halal and Chinese” as well as a “Wet, dusty dog”, “Phone booth” and “wet garbage bins”. The 80,000 visitors per day to Summer Streets on Aug 5, 12 and 19 were invited to take a smellwalk, to sniff locally, to visualise their experience and contest their findings by adding graffiti to the large map. The subway is a regular contender on the NYC smellscape radar – a smell propelled by warmth and air pushed through tunnels as noted in the following smellnote, “Stronger when the train passes under the sidewalk”.

Installation visitors faced two questions:

  • Do you agree with the smellmap?
  • Can you locate previously detected smells?

and proceeded to sniff and record before layering their own smells onto the map rendering it as a dynamic, contested airspace.

One participant elected to uncover the smells from four different bins and discovered them each to be quite unique putting pay to the myth that all garbage can be labelled reductively. Another sniffed passersby unbeknownst to them and recorded human smellscapes on the streets. Another interesting mini-project mapped the text of lamppost stickers against their smells:

  • “I love you” = BO/Pot
  • “Liberty” = Plastic
  • “Nametag” = Magic mushrooms
  • “Trump” = car/plane/glue

Even car mirrors smelled vastly different to each other on one morning:

  • Jeep Wrangler Safari = hot black plastic
  • BMW Coupe = nothing at all
  • Ford = dusty workshop/sawdust
  • Chevrolet = fake new car interior

Smelltales emerged as impressions of a neighbourhood, an archive of urban whiffs, pongs and perfumes… contact me for more details.

A massive thank you to NYC DOT Art team, Village Alliance, Miriam Songster, Kirsten Magnani, Casey Otremba for their valuable contributions to the project and to Mair, Phil and family for swinging by.