Can We Use Smells To Design Better Cities?

Science says, yes.

The scents of rosemary, lemon, lavender, and orange can help improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients. The smell of citrus can motivate people to clean their homes. And sniffing spiced apples can lower blood pressure. If these micro-examples of the benefits of smell sound like an ad campaign for scented candles, think again: they could be case studies for how designers might improve the quality of life in cities.

As Lance Hosey points out, in this past Sunday’s opinion section of the New York Times:

Whole cities can be defined by their scent. Streetscapes fill with the aroma of roasting coffee spilling from Seattle’s cafes, or the bouquet of fruit and flowers at Amsterdam’s markets, or the sugar and cinnamon wafting out of Viennese pastry shops. The Spanish city of San Sebastián, set in a deep cove ringed by cliffs, is one of the most visually arresting places I know, but its most unforgettable feature has to be the distinctive scent of sea and sand lingering on the old fishing village at its heart.

These olfactory identities don’t exist entirely by accident. Scent marketing--like when a popcorn shop lures customers in by pumping the buttery, salty smell onto the sidewalk--plays to our most basic instincts in an effort to procure a sale. But if businesses can use scents to target customers, or even just develop brand loyalty, why can't urban planners and designers do the same to improve our experience of urban environments? Writes Hosey:

Designers are trained to focus mostly on the visual, but the science of design could significantly expand designers’ sensory palette. Call it medicinal urbanism.

How can we use the power of scent to design better cities? Let us know in the comments section, and read Hosey's article here.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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2 Comments

  • Marthe

    Not really that far-fetched idea, Itwould be wonderful! Currently cities have odors that aren't very nice! It would be a challenge, to transform them into pleasant smells that you immediately submit the specific name of a city. I like the note. Thank you! ;)