Smells that personify place


Back in December, I posted a story on those sounds that personify place. The post has received a lot of views and comments. As a result, I have decided to address the other senses.

Often, the smells that personify a place are not necessarily pleasant aromas. For example, cities with large stockyards like Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, or Fort Worth had a definite odor to them depending on if you were downwind or not.  In developing countries, the smell of open sewers or large landfills may permeate the air with pungent odors.

Omaha stockyards – Source:

But, instead of just focusing on unpleasant aromas, this post also hopes to sniff out some of the undeniably enjoyable smells that also personify place too. Here is a list of both pleasant and not-so-pleasant smells that define a place. Please feel free to note others that you may have noticed at one time or another.


  • Various flavors of coffee roasting in coffee shops around the world.
  • Food cooking on a grill.
  • Campfires and the smells associated with cooking at them.
  • Lilac, peppermint, and other flowers in the spring and summer.
  • Fuel at gas stations, race tracks, and airports.
  • Freshly cut grass in lawns.
  • The fresh, salty breezes of places along ocean coastlines.
  • Sun tan lotion at beaches around the world.
  • Freshly baked bread and pastries in bakeries.
  • A variety of sweet smells coming from carnivals, state fairs, and theme parks.


  • Cities like Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky or Ocala, Florida which have a number of areas where one can catch a whiff of those scents associated with the breeding, raising, and racing of horses.
  • Communities with large breweries or distilleries like St. Louis; Frankfort and Bardstown, Kentucky; Lynchburg, Tennessee, or Oban, Scotland which have the aroma of barley, hops, and malt drifting about.

Oban, Scotland distillery – Source:

  • Here in Greater Lansing, when fertilizer and/or manure is being spread at the MSU Farms, just about everyone downwind knows about it. : )
  • Areas around cities with large oil refineries like Houston, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge have a definitive petroleum smell.

Houston area oil refinery – Source:


  • Communities with paper mills like Chillicothe, Ohio and a number of cities and towns in the Southeastern United States  or in Northern Wisconsin have a noticeable smell associated with paper production. Locals may be used to it, but it takes a while for visitors to acclimate.
  • My hometown of Indianapolis had two very distinctive smells that I remember – burning leaves in autumn and fuel from the race cars at the Motor Speedway or from dragsters at Raceway Park. Places like Daytona Beach, Talledega, Bristol, or Le Mans would be familiar with these automotive aromas.
  • Fishing, lobster, and shrimping communities like Gloucester; Portland, ME;  Digby, NS; Biloxi; or amid Louisiana’s bayou country contain smell associated with their bait and catch.
  • The sweet smell of cocoa and chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Hershey, PA – Source:

Marrakech Spice Market – Source:

Tokyo Fish Market – Source:

This entry was posted in cities, Cuisine, culture, diversity, economic development, economics, energy, environment, food systems, geography, globalization, health, history, infrastructure, land use, placemaking, planning, rail, tourism, urban planning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Smells that personify place

  1. Ron Melin says:

    The smell of smog. Growing up in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley one could experience leaving the northern part of the valley under the influence of the famed “Santa Ana Winds” into the southern part of the valley dominated by more of a marine air mass. The change was not only visibly but quite noticeable by one’s olfactory senses as well.


  2. Ellen Parker says:

    In Buffalo there is a distinctive smell of Cheerio’s from the General Mills factory.


  3. Pingback: Places of the heart – touch which personifies place | Panethos

  4. The intermingling of eucalyptus, wild fennel, and fog on a San Francisco morning.


  5. Charles Jennings says:

    I remember distinctly the powerful but pleasant spice odor in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor before the McCormick Spice Plant moved away — the plant was torn down in the late 1980s.


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