John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The best smelling, that is. See where your city ranks on this highly unscientific listing of odorous burgs.
For the charred noses who live in "Smell-A," this news comes as no surprise: Your city is making headlines as the smelliest burg in America.
But that's a good thing, according to a ranking of odorous cities by GQ's "globe trotting scent critic," Chandler Burr. This masterful sniffer used a matrix you might not expect, given the nature of the assignment: Rather than be distracted by the foulest and most abrasive stenches, he takes into account a city's cumulative smell punch.
Burr swishes not just sewer gases and bus-stop urine clouds, but the aroma of flowering trees, the musk of beautiful ladies (and men) and the unique bouquet of each city's air as it interacts with the prevailing weather patterns.
By this standard, he deems Los Angeles' fragrance bomb unrivaled by any other city in the nation:
There's the ocean breeze from Santa Monica that can travel as far East as Silver Lake; a dry desert air that comes West over Downtown and South Central; the astringent balm of eucalyptus, pine, honeysuckle, and jasmine from the hills; and car exhaust from catalytic converters, which is, in its strange industrial way, beautiful. It's like the jolt of a drug: shifting, comforting, cool like a blanket. The lonely smell of the marine layer burns off and you get this flashy perfume of hot asphalt, engines, and sun block that you can find nowhere but in L.A.
The esteemed nose also tags as particularly tangy the air above New Orleans, San Francisco and Pleasantville, N.Y. The worst smelling city in the world? That would be Paris, where poor dental hygiene and smoking habits have made the communal breath smell like "smoke-cured human bacon."
You can decide for yourself if Burr got the smell order correct by visiting the full ranking. In such a subjective experiment, there are bound to be differences in opinion. Maybe if Burr had traveled more on public transportation, for example, he would've knocked L.A. down a few slots. Take a look at these Yelp comments on the city's Blue Line Metro:
- "I can't imagine Hell being much worse.... The train itself is over 20 years old and is subject to power outages and delays. It looks very outdated/3rd World compared to more modern metro systems. Sometimes you can smell the scent of vomit, scat, and urine."
- "Be careful if someone is drunk they some how always manage to throw up. So if they are just exit at the next stop and get on to the next car. It does smell like dried urine and puke but hell the blue line gets you there."
- "Right before the metro left, some guy came on and stood in front of me. It turned out it was a bum. Bad enough that I had ass in my face but his funk slapped me in the face!! Me and everyone around me were eyeing each other and just shaking our heads. One lady put her two fingers up her nose and refused to smell. Although I dont know how much better breathing out your mouth would be considering you now TASTE the funk!"
Photo taken by Wikimedia user Jane; classy smell lines and flies added by the author.