The city of Christchurch, NZ suffered two earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.The destruction left most buildings destroyed and numerous vacant spaces all over the city. Soon the registered charitable trust Gap Filler started to appropriate these spaces with an ambition to prove that with relatively minimal infrastructure “one could define and create public space, almost instantly“. Gap Filler’s first project in 2010 involved the conversion of a empty site into a temporary garden café with live music and outdoor cinema. This acted as a cataylst which then saw Gap Filler engaging with a whole range of creative projects involving art, food, games and sports (explore them here) taking place throughout the city centre.
One of them caught our attention for its very innovative approach; The Dance-O-Mat. Connect your music player such as Mp3, iPod or vintage walkman to the jack cable, put a $2 coin in the former washing mashing to activate the power, let the music and lights take over the place and start dancing!
Since its first opening in 2012, the Dance-O-Mat was a great success among the inhabitants of Christchurch, used by dance teachers, local choreographers, real-life superheroes as well as many curious and inspired pedestrians. The mobile dancefloor has moved four times and is now in a new place, bringing life and energy back to the devastated city centre.
The idea of the Dance-O-Mat was to give people a much-needed activity in the city and to test people’s expression in a public space. The result was something more than Gap Filler could have anticipated with a great local response that still exists 4 years later.
Find out more about the Dance-O-Mat here
Gap Filler is now involved with the Christchurch City Council in an advisory capacity – thinking about the long-term rebuilding of the city with the help of community participation.
Gap Filler is, along with other significant associations such as Life In Vacant Spaces, part of a new way of thinking about and developing the city that takes into account the power of the community. In their own words “Gap Filler proves that the regeneration of the city does not rely solely on large-scale developments by the private or public sectors.”
In a recent article, Ryan Renolds co-founder and chair of Gap Filler Trust and co-founder of Life in Vacant Spaces says that during his collaboration with the Landscape Architecture and Urbanism research group of Copenhagen University he was confronted to the thinking that maybe the Christchurch community full of activeness and creativeness was due to the post-disaster situation of the city. Having experienced the devastation of the earthquake it was found the citizens became more active and more willing to take part in the rebuilding of their city after witnessing its destruction. But as he recalls, some similar community-led initiatives to use the vacant spaces and appropriate the urban space can be found in cities that haven’t necessarily suffered such a major disaster, starting with Copenhagen. If the creative mind of Christchurch’s community is more visible it might be because it was given a place within the public place to express itself.
With the rise of so many community initiated open spaces, the city has been presented with the opportunity to become a model in sustainable urbanism. The 5 year anniversary of the first earthquake is this Friday (4 September) and it leaves these organisations to think about their future. Gap Filler and Life in Vacant Spaces are now in a transitional phase themselves considering how they can turn their temporary initiatives into long-term urban development projects.