Sensory York: Sights, sounds, smells and feelings

Smells of Hungate in early 20th century… what will York smell like in ten years’ time? Designs and Photos by Reet So.

In our research on Hungate – and drawing heavily on Van Wilson’s oral histories of the area – we found that people’s memories were bound up with its distinctive sights, sounds and smells. In designing our exhibition for the Yorktopia event we wanted use the sensory landscape of early 20th century York to prompt us all to consider what we’d like York in ten years’ time to look like, sounds like, smell like and feel like.

You can contribute your own sensory York online.

  • Smells of Hungate, an exhibit at the Yorktopia event. Designs by Reet So.

We got a handful of responses to this during the event. This contrasted with the much more popular Census activity. This is a good reminder that participative exhibits need to be quite structured and immediately easy to undertake in crowded and noises spaces. On reflection this York Senses activity needed, perhaps, a more meditative mood. However those that did find the mental space during the event to imagine their Yorktopia sensoryscape produced really evocative and poetic responses.

Here are some samples below for inspiration or as point of resistance and disagreement:

Looks like...

‘Traditional buildings upkept. Lots more trees. No more car parks.’

‘Lots of trees, paved roads and pavements, shared sapce all through the centre, good modern buildings next to old.’

‘Sunsets + sunrises, red brick and wooden breams, smiling faces and starry nights, bright lights and clean lines, home.’

Sounds like…



‘Sounds of birds. Local musicians/buskers, supported to bring the streets alive’.

‘Quiet, only the tinkle of bicycle bells. The whirr of electric engines’.

‘Gentle folk music and sometimes heavy rock and punk protests, fireworks, laughter, and the ring pull on an can on beer, someone telling you that they love you…’.

Smells like..

‘Smell of logs burning, street vans, mulled wine, donuts, not rubbish’.

‘Clean. Grassy’.

‘Fresh coffee, cinnamon, the first raindrops on aspelt, incense, pine trees, sometimes fresh paint and petrol, freshly baked bread, apple pie’.

Feels like…



‘A small homely feel but a part of an active community in a city. This is why I choose to live in York.’

‘A place to sit an breathe, an exciting city with a buzz, safe but edgy.’

‘Clean, safe, soft, like crunchy leaves under your feet and fresh drew in the air…warm, comfortable like sinking into an arm chair by the fire’.

In the comfort of your own digital space, create your own meditative space and imagine what does you York in ten years’ time look like, sound like, smell like and feel like?

Thanks so much to all who shared their sensory hopes for York at the Yorktopia event. Card and icon designs by Ben Holden. Exhibit designs by Reet So.

Yorktopia: looking back to look forwards

  • Yorktopia event, 23rd November 2016: York sounds and smells activity. Designs and photos by Reet So.

On 23rd November My Future York collaborated with Vespertine and York St John University to look back to the histories of the Hungate area to provoke debate and discussion about York in ten years’ time.

In our exhibition we invited people to look at floor plans of a Hungate house, demolished in 1936, the houses of the new Tang Hall estate and those being built the new Hungate development.

A plan of a two bedroom house in Hungate. Designs by Reet So.

We then invited ideas for a utopian dwelling. We also invite people to listen to record excerpts from Day In My Life stories we’ve already collected.

An ideal dwelling for York in ten years’ time.

One aim – not surprisingly given the focus of the My Future York project – was to invite people to contribute their own ideas. Two of our participatory exhibits seemed to work well and to entice people to think about their and York’s future. Thinking of the event as a prototyping process we’ve now developed these ideas into online versions.

The first was a quick Census activity. Based on 1911 Census in Hungate but asking people to image their own Census for ten years’ time. We got 37 responses in the short period of the event. The new online version will only take 5 minutes to complete.

The second was a York Senses activity. From oral histories and archive photography we gathered images of the sights, smells and sounds of Hunagte in early 20th century. From Chicory to the slaughter house. The online version of York Senses will take between 5-10 minutes to complete.

Smells of Hungate in early 20th century… what will York smell like in ten years’ time? Designs and Photos by Reet So.

The event finished with an array of signers and poets sharing their visions, hopes and fears for York’s future such as Henry Raby’s contribution of a battle-scarred York.

A big thanks to Veserptine and York St John’s for working with us on the event and to Reet So for being brilliant designers and collaborators.