Mapping London's smells: ‘smellscapes’ show which streets stink

Do London's streets have a particular scent? Researchers have compiled social media comments to map smells across London


Which are the smelliest bits of your city? Where are the streets that smell most like leather, or fish, or freshly-baked bread? Where do people notice traffic emissions, or air pollution? 

A group of researchers are on a mission to find out, creating beautiful colour-coded maps showing the different smell trends in different parts of London. 

The team, led by Daniele Quercia at the University of Cambridge, collected data on when smells are mentioned on social media. Based on half a million Flickr pictures, 35,000 Instagram photos and 113,000 tweets, they mapped the locations where each particular smell had been mentioned. They then grouped similar smell words together to create categories including 'Waste', 'Food', 'Nature' and 'Industry', and have made colour coded street plans. The results reveal the smelliest - and most polluted - areas of London. 

The group hope that their maps can improve understanding of how smells affect people's experiences of a city, and say it could also have practical effects such as aiding city designers to make planning decisions about traffic flow and tree planting. 

The maps could have health benefits too, helping asthmatics or runners avoid the most polluted areas. And even if you aren't a runner, mapping your route based on smells, rather than distance, is a novel way to experience London.