PARIS STINKS. After moving away from France nearly 9 years ago to where the grass is greaner (and smells rather lovely), it is striking to come back to my native country through its capital and realize that the whole place reeks of urine, garbage, and sewage.

Paris is not unique. It stinks just like any other large cities.

A team of researchers is challenging traditional urban planning practices by creating “smellscapes” to show that smells are just as important as looks and sounds when it comes to designing our cities. The group has already produced two of these “smelly maps“: one for London and one for Barcelona.

Mapping smells is not an easy task, so one of the researchers, Kate McLean, organized “smellwalks” in seven cities in Europe and the US (Amsterdam, Pamplona, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newport, Paris and New York). Participants walked around, took notes of the odours they could identify, and the terms they used were collected and classified into an “urban smell dictionary” (some of 285 terms recorded are contained in the aroma wheel below).

Later they used data from social media (pictures from Instagram and Flickr and messages from Tweeter) to know where these terms where mentioned in London and Barcelona, and the mapping began.

“smelly map” of London

“smelly map” of Barcelona

The result is pretty, but also disgusting: there are a lot more red and orange-coloured areas than green, i.e. London and Barcelona smell mostly of emissions and animals. Wouldn’t it be nice if urban planners dedicated some of their time for our cities’ olfactory footprints to be baked goods and lavender?