Why Does Midtown Manhattan Smell Like That?


Midtown Manhattan is home to some of the busiest streets in the world. The sidewalks are constantly packed with people, and the smell of exhaust fumes from all the cars, trucks and buses fills the air. But another smell’s just as noticeable – a strange mix of smells that seem to come from everywhere at once. What is that smell?

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The answer is that it’s a mix of different things – some natural and some man-made. Some of the main culprits are the many factories and power plants that line the Hudson and East Rivers. These plants release all sorts of chemicals into the air, which waft over to Midtown Manhattan and mix to create a distinctive smell.

Another factor is the city’s sewer system. New York City has a century-old combined sewer system, which means that stormwater runoff and sewage all flow into the same pipes. During heavy rains, the sewers can overflow, spilling sewage into the streets and into the surrounding rivers. This also contributes to the bad smell.

people standing near highway near vehicles
Photo by jimmy teoh on Pexels.com

Seasonal Variations in the Smell of Midtown Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan is home to some of the most iconic sights and smells in the world. The area is teeming with life, and the air is thick with the scents of food, exhaust, and perfume.

A distinctive smell in Midtown is that of hot dogs cooking on a street cart. The savory scent of grilled onions and mustard wafts through the air, tempting passersby to stop for a bite.

A variety of other food trucks, from Mexican to Chinese in style, add distinctive smells as to hot pretzel and roasted nut vendors in season

A ubiquitous smell in Midtown is fumes from traffic. The streets are congested with cars, buses, and taxis, emitting a noxious blend of exhaust and diesel.

And then there are the smells emanating from the dozens of stores selling perfume and scented candles. These shops fill the air with a sweet, heady aroma that can be overpowering on a hot summer day.

But despite the sometimes overwhelming smells of Midtown Manhattan, it’s all part of the unique experience of visiting this vibrant area.

The impact of the smell on people’s health

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Midtown Manhattan is at the nexus of a bustling metropolis, and its streets are filled with the sights and smells of city life. However, research suggests that the smells of the city may hurt people’s health.

A recent study found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution was associated with an increased risk of death from cardiopulmonary disease. The researchers believe that the particles in traffic exhaust can damage the heart and lungs, causing inflammation and making it more difficult for the body to fight off infection.

In addition, the noise of traffic has been linked to higher levels of stress and anxiety, which can also take a toll on people’s health. While more research is needed to confirm these findings, it seems clear that the smell of the city can harm people’s health.

How the city is trying to address the issue

Manhattan is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It is home to over 1.6 million people, and the population continues to grow. With so many people living in such a small area, it is not surprising that the city has been struggling to address the issue of overcrowding.

In recent years, the city has been working to create more public space and to improve the quality of life for residents.

One way the city has been trying to do this is by creating new parks and green spaces. Manhattan now has over 30 new parks, and the city is investing in infrastructure improvements to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

The city is also working on increasing housing options, including building new apartment complexes and expanding existing ones. By taking these steps, the city is hoping to make Midtown and the rest of Manhattan more livable and enjoyable for all its residents.

What you can do to help reduce the smell

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Midtown Manhattan, while one of the most vibrant and bustling areas in the city, can also be one of the smelliest. The combination of hot summer weather and the abundance of garbage cans can create an unpleasant odor that can permeate the air for blocks.

Using mass transit and auto alternatives like bicycles are obvious opportunities, but there are a few other things you can do to reduce the smell.

First, try to avoid leaving garbage bags out in the sun. If possible, store them in a cool, dry place until they can be properly disposed of.

Second, make sure to tightly seal all garbage cans. This will help to prevent odors from escaping and will also deter pests.

Finally, don’t hesitate to report any particularly foul-smelling areas to 311.


The sights and smells of Midtown Manhattan are part of what makes the area so unique. However, the city’s dense population and hot summer weather can create an unpleasant smell that can be harmful to people’s health.

The good news is that there are things we can do to help reduce the odor. By storing garbage properly and sealing garbage cans, we can make a big difference.

And by reporting any particularly foul-smelling areas to 311, we can help keep Midtown smelling better if not clean and fresh.

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