Dirty Smelly Cities or Sterile Urban Streets?

V. Henshaw

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Since the introduction of modern public health and sanitation programmes across the UK in the mid nineteenth century, urban smell environments have changed significantly. Previously dirty places, filled with mud, excrement and organic waste and home to smelly businesses and poorly ventilated residences, city streets and buildings have since been completely transformed. However, Henri Lefebvre observed the modernism project to have worked towards the ‘complete atrophy of smell’, producing what Ivan Illich describes as sterile environments that numb the senses. Such comments infer that odour removal efforts may have gone too far and in some parts of Canada and America, people are reporting extreme reactions to remaining odours with hyper-sensitivities being used as justification for policies that further remove odours in public buildings such as schools and hospitals. Is reduced exposure to odour today, having an adverse effect upon public health?This paper works towards answering this question by examining contemporary perceptions (detection and cognition) of smell in the environment and explores in detail, the role this sense plays in people’s everyday experiences in, and of, the city. It asks what smells people detect in the city and what they think about them, what factors influence smell detection and cognition and identifies those public health issues that emerge as a result. It does so by drawing from empirical studies carried out in Sheffield, Manchester and Clerkenwell, London, and Doncaster, South Yorkshire. The findings are further supplemented by smellwalks in Seattle, United States and Grasse, South of France.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationhost publication
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2012
EventInaugural UK Festival of Public Health - The University of Manchester
Duration: 2 Jul 20122 Jul 2012


ConferenceInaugural UK Festival of Public Health
CityThe University of Manchester


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