Even if you could identify the smells that punctuate every stroll you take in the city, why would you want to? You're probably not trying to make a Smellmap. You're probably not British multi-sensory artist Kate McLean, who is on a mission to convert the everyday stenches we labor so hard to avoid into a beautiful illustration, much as she has already done for the more fragrant cities of Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Milan.
To do this, McLean has assembled a group of intrepid noses for a Smellwalk along Bedford Avenue, an event which produced this incomparable photo of a white-haired gentleman in pressed gray slacks bending to breathe in the contents of a Williamsburg trash can. Participants varied from everyone from John Havens, who is writing a book about the "nostalgia of smell," to Alexandra Horowitz, who was conducting "immersive canine research"—in other words, embodying a dog.
Shockingly, the two dozen walkers claim they smelled nothing worse than the scent of a distant marijuana cigarette, which sounds like a filthy lie. McClean does allow that the city's dominant smell is from the subway, which she refers to as "a warm, musty smell that comes from the cellar.”
Notably, though, McClean did not subject her smellpanions to the city's most notoriously stinky neighborhoods, though to her credit, she has sniffed the Smelliest Block in the City, and lived to map it. What did she smell there? Stagnant water, timber/sawdust, dried fish, cabbage, car oil, A/C, trash, orange peel, 5-spice and cheap perfume. We'll stick to looking at the illustration, thanks.
McClean says she will next endeavor to "smellwalk" in Queens and possibly the Bronx. Interested in dipping your nose into a garbage pile in the name of research? Contact her.