Fragrant Reading: The Smelling Committee of 1891


Notcot, one of my favorite design catalogues, ran a piece recently about a Smelling Committee that was set up in 1891 to investigate the olfactory identity of Brooklyn. This makes for a delightful and interesting read.

The article is by Caitlin Berrigan and tells us also about the recent reenactment of that initial experience, which took place, anew in the Brooklyn neighborhoods, in September 2006...

In 1891... "Irritated by the foul stenches that wafted through their northeast Brooklyn neighborhood, members of the Fifteenth Ward Smelling Committee embarked on a boat trip up Newtown Creek in September... in search of the responsible parties. They reached a point across from the oil refineries where 'the stenches began asserting themselves with all the vigor of fully developed stenches.' What the Smelling Committee quickly discovered was that an unusually heavy concentration of industrial activity... had transformed the area around Newtown Creek into an ecological wasteland." - Andrew Hurley (1994) [...]

"While the Smelling Committee of 2006 will not be boating upriver, we will be honoring the importance of our most emotional sensory system and its relation to culture, the environment, pleasure, hunger, disgust and urban investigation".

Now I think we could all start taking down some notes as we take leisurely strolls in our respective neighborhoods. I can already see the title on the cover of a book, An Olfactory History of Urban America: Voices from the Grassroots. Let me know if you're interested; we could compile an anthology.

The Smelling Committee

You can also read an article from the Washington Post that I posted earlier about: Bond no.9 is going on a sniffing mission in New York City.

Sources: Notcot and Glowlab

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