Basically, atmosphere can be described as a subjective mood conveyed through the social and external surroundings. In outdoor urban areas, it is predominantly the various sensory impressions that cause us to make judgements. For example, the typical local smells – both positive and negative. Well into the 1980s, the blast furnaces of heavy industry defined the landscape silhouettes of the Ruhr region. The odours emitted by the coking plants and industrial facilities were also clearly perceptible everywhere. This is in stark contrast to the typical smells of port cities such as Marseilles, where fishermen still bring their goods on land from the boat in the early morning and repair their nets during the daytime. In this sense, a city can “smell like” industry and labour and, in some places, evoke an association with social statuses.
However, the absence of smells can itself be considered a special quality, as is the case in the German spa towns renowned for their healthy air. Currently, this topic is gaining an immense amount of Attention from society due to particulate Pollution from diesel emissions. In addition to these urban olfactory “landscapes,” cities have specific sounds and noises. Tramway whizzing by, containers rumbling at the terminals, the noise of the elevated platforms and approach paths, the flapping of the sail masts in the marina or the bells of City Hall sounding. Recently, a sociological approach has come into being that is concerned with social environment as a means of conveying atmosphere. Internalising the basic social conditions shapes a certain “habitus,” which one can also refer to as a type of mental attitude or mode of living.
This determines the way people think and act. Is is specifically the cultural areas of the economy – such as design, architecture, fashion, film, museums, theatre and music – that primarily shape the way the city’s residents behave and thus the image of the city itself. Perhaps the best example is Paris, considered the fashion and artistic metropolis through the ages and a place of elegance, high culture and assured style. Or Los Angeles, home to Hollywood’s film industry and its beautiful, superficial smoke and mirrors. Accordingly, cities have a distinct “production biography,” that determines their character and thus their atmosphere. However, people have learned that these urban typologies are not adequate, because within the major cities, specific social groups and cultures take shape in their own localities. Here, we are referring to community neighbourhoods with a certain feel. We might call them a quarter, enclave or an entertainment or other district, each with its own panache. However, these different areas frequently have universally valid descriptors.