The Smell Map of Gowanus Is Here

Sometimes smell is the best guide to walking a New York neighborhood. In Gowanus, where a toxic dolphin-killing canal mixes with the luscious odor of industry, that guidance is usually “Run for the hills — the water has turned to sludge!” The smells of Gowanus have now been mapped by Annie Barrett Studio for the design contest Axis Civita, organized by Gowanus by Design. The winners are on display at Site:Brooklyn gallery through March 5.

Three researchers walked around the neighborhood on three hot summer days (peak stench) with noses to the sky to create an olfactory map of the neighborhood that catalogues negative man-made smells (like sewage and exhaust), positive man-made smells (like cookies or corned beef), and natural smells like flowers or just air.

The goal was to show the “secondary impacts” the canal has on the surrounding area (it stinks!). Annie Barrett Studio also created a trash map to show how few trash-can options there are in the neighborhood. The contest winners mapped the microbiome — universe of bacteria — at the canal’s bottom. Other contestants mapped air quality, land ownership, and the status of cleanup efforts. The contest organizers are raising money to put the maps online so the public can add their findings. 

Gowanus trash density map.