One of the more imaginative yet basic design sensibilities features appeals to all the senses including the olfactory. What if neighborhoods became more intentional about things like plantings and ventillations that fill the air with rich tapestries of smells and scents of herbs, flowers, fireplaces and the preparations of cuisine? Could a new design principle center around the idea: cities that smell well, do well?
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.