During 1857, a London barber was investigated for making “evill smells” from a “Drinke called Coffee.” Only 50 years later, the London Coffee House was a normal part of life. And now, rather than a smell, I would say there is nothing more appealing that the aroma of good coffee.
A smell can send an economic message.
Smelling the Economy
Used for people and freight, in 1880, the horse population in Manhattan and Brooklyn was somewhere between 150,000-175,000 and growing. At 20 or so pounds a day per horse, the entire city wound up with more than 100,000 tons of manure annually. And yes, there was a lot of urine too, maybe 40,000 gallons a day.
You can see the accumulation in the street:
Concerned about the smell and sanitation, the city started to mandate nighttime stabling and more manure gathering crews. But the final solution was electric streetcars and the auto. By 1912, NYC had more cars than horses. In 1917, only one horsecar remained. The auto transformed the smell of the city.
Barcelona and London
For an unexpected way to get clues about an urban economy, a group of researchers created urban smellscapes. Through social media, they mapped the smells of London and Barcelona in 10 categories. Overall, they concluded that Barcelona’s smells related to food and nature. Very different, London’s were traffic emissions and waste.
For the two cities, these were their observations:
Our Bottom Line: Economics
When we slice away all of its complexities, economics is about production and distribution. It focuses on the tradeoffs we make when we decide what to produce. And, then, it looks at our distribution decisions. Through three basic questions, we make our decisions about who gets what:
- Which goods and services should we produce?
- How should we use our land labor and capital to produce our goods and services?
- Who will receive the income that lets them acquire the goods and services that are produced?
The past and present smells of London, NYC, or Barcelona can give us some answers to the three basic economic questions.
My sources and more: The smell story at JStor Daily is a good starting point as is this much longer paper. From there, the possibilities multiply. For a smellscape tour of two cities, I recommend this paper. Then, there was New York City’s transport stench and The Great Stink in London.
Finally, (as did I) you might enjoy the story of The Great Stink of 1858: