A series of temporary interventions led by local citizens to help revitalise parts of the city destroyed in the 2010 earthquake

Gap Maker – Christchurch, New Zealand

date 2010 - ongoing

The damage caused by the 2011 earthquakes were having a detrimental effect on the downtown area of Christchurch, many plots were left empty after having to be dismantled in the clean up. People were no longer visiting anymore and local businesses were suffering. The organisation Gap Filler was launched in order to help revitalise these vacant plots of land around the city. Originally devised by the architect Andrew Just and the performing artists Ryan Reynolds and Coralie Winn, the disaster was seen as an opportunity to rethink the production and use of public spaces around the city.

The project began at the site of a former restaurant. With permission and some funding from the local council alongside other charitable trusts and contributions from the public, the empty lot was turned into a public space that provided a picnic area, a performance space and a library for people to borrow and donate books. Over time the space has evolved and new activities have been added, whilst Gap Filler have grown and expanded, reclaiming other sites across the city. In the subsequent years the group have created outdoor cinemas, the Dance-o-Mat, featuring a juke box and dance floor for anyone to use and the pictured Palette-Pavilion, the groups first structural project, built by volunteers which functioned as a community and events space for the local community.

The temporary and contingent conditions that Gap Filler came out of has been reflected in the flexible and dynamic nature of its various projects. The series of interventions have been incredibly successful, not only reinvigorating the life of a once neglected part of town but helping to build valuable ties within the community at a difficult time. The invitation for citizens to engage with the space and codevelop future projects with the projects initiators challenges the traditional top down approach to planning and has created a space for new forms of bottom up place-making and civic life to be prototyped. Gap Filler has now involved over 40 different events and projects and its work has been mirrored across NZ, heralded as an innovator of participatory urbanism.

The ethos is less on aesthetics and appearance rather than creating a platform for community engagement, experimentation and resourcefulness. This combination of localised decision making, novelty and immediacy has helped to create interesting, place specific spaces which can adapt to a communities changing needs and future desires.

Image (c) Jessica Slattery, 2012 (pending permission)