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The problem

The Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 caused substantial damage to land and buildings in the Christchurch area, with significant ongoing psychosocial impacts on the city’s residents. Many buildings collapsed or had to be demolished, resulting in many vacant spaces. This created opportunities for space activations which could bring these spaces to life and help Christchurch residents to connect with their city and each other in the aftermath of the quakes.

How the project responded

Gap Filler Trust formed after the first earthquake in 2010 and began hosting placemaking events and activations in vacant lots around Christchurch. Gap Filler has led over 100 space activations since its founding and facilitated many others. These include:

  • The ‘Dance-O-Mat’, a public, coin-operated dance floor which can be connected to any music source via a headphone jack
  • The Think Differently Book Exchange in an empty lot on Barbadoes Street, which draws people in with yellow paving stones, a park bench between two cabbage trees, and a fridge filled with books that readers found life-changing and challenging
  • The Pallet Pavilion, a large-scale, temporary community building designed by emerging designers, supported by established professionals, and built from loaned, reused and donated materials using volunteer, professional and community labour
  • PARK(ing) days in 2015 and 2016, where members of the public transform a car parking space into an active public space for a day
  • The Super Street Arcade, a giant game controller and screen installed at the intersection of Tuam and High Streets, on which 2-3 players can play Christchurch-themed video games, some of which are developed by local school students as part of their curriculum
  • The #chchswing, two giant swings framed by giant orange ‘photo’ frames designed as fun hangout spaces for teenagers in the city that encourage taking and sharing photos online.

Most Gap Filler installations are temporary, though some, like the Think Differently Book Exchange, have run continuously since their establishment. Others, like Super Street Arcade and #chchswing, have a 10- to 25-year material life but are easily relocatable to another site.

Portable Swan Garden on Durham Street

Portable Swan Garden on Durham Street for PARK(ing) Day 2015. Credit: Gap Filler.

Playing on the Super Street Arcade

Playing on the Super Street Arcade. Credit: Gap Filler.

What was learned

While the impacts of their work have not been formally measured, and the psychosocial effects are difficult to assess, a case study evaluation of their work found Gap Filler had:

  • engaged the public in a multitude of interactive installations and volunteerism
  • influenced thinking around community use of space
  •  contributed to improved wellbeing for some.

Issues identified across some of their projects include:

  • Maintenance of installations, for example, keeping the Dance-O-Mat floor clean and fixing chips and other damage
  • Vandalism, for example, theft of all books from the Think Differently Book Exchange
  • The challenge of meeting costs for professional work required to install and run installations, for example, 24-hour security on the Pallet Pavilion
  • Perceptions of their projects as meeting short-terms needs for singular, standalone, and temporary responses to the Christchurch earthquakes, rather than contributing to the larger purpose of reimagining the city.

Gap Filler has evolved from a grant-funded charity into a social enterprise providing goods and services to clients. From a project-based organisation, they have expanded into other areas which support city-building, such as working with corporate partners and sponsors to build permanent installations. Projects like the Super Street Arcade installation demonstrate this shift in Gap Filler’s focus from short-term gap-filling to exploring how fun and creative community-mindedness can be embedded into the permanent city.

Gap Filler helps other cities innovate and replicate their successes. For example, they have done consulting work and held many placemaking workshops across the country and internationally. They have also developed some of their successful Christchurch projects into products; for instance, the Dance-O-Mat has since been replicated in Tauranga and Auckland locations. Increasingly, Gap Filler is partnering with property developers and government development agencies to make more innovative and community-minded permanent developments, including roading projects.