In 2024 the Museum of London (MoL) moves to a new location in West Smithfield. One of Europe’s largest cultural capital projects, the move will radically transform the Smithfield neighbourhood. This PhD research evaluates the impact that culture-led development has on a neighbourhood’s sense of place in the context of sustainable urban development and socially-engaged museum practices. It investigates the socio-spatial impact and experiential change that the MoL move will generate.
This study analyses sense of place as the dynamic interaction of a physical location (‘setting’), its users’ socio-cultural and sensory experiences (‘lifeworld’), and its framing in narratives (‘storyworld’). To capture these layers, this study uses an action research approach and mixed methods combining qualitative, quantitative and digital approaches. The findings will underpin a ‘toolkit’ for use by the MoL as both a catalogue of Smithfield’s transforming sense of place – its living data, artefacts and experiences – and a basis from which to measure its future impact. Its findings will inform the sympathetic ‘sitedness’ of the MoL and offer suggestions for future culture-led projects and their holistic evaluation.
The MoL’s move provides an opportunity to study a changing sense of place and the impact of culture-led development, given Smithfield’s dense built heritage and breadth of use, the MoL’s locally- and socially-engaged ambitions, and concerns over culturewashing and the creation of a gentrified ‘blandscape’. This study will offer new insights into the dynamic relationship between culture-led developments and their local area.