Gap Filler teaches the world

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 05:00 29/09/2014

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Gap Filler has been consulted on how to revitalise urban space by authorities, academics and communities in Auckland, Melbourne and Western Australia, with more cities set to learn from the Christchurch experience in coming months.

"They look at what is happening in Christchurch with envy. They want some," Gap Filler Trust chair Ryan Reynolds said. "It's surprising what a hunger there is for this." There's a perception that "life in Christchurch is meaningful . . . in a way that it's not in a normally functioning city", he said.

Gap Filler is a "creative urban regeneration initiative that temporarily activates vacant sites within Christchurch with cool and creative projects, to make for a more interesting and vibrant city", according to its website.

Founded after the 2010 quake, its projects include the Pallet Pavilion, the Dance-O-Mat and the Think Differently Book Exchange, which is located in a recycled fridge on an empty section in Barbadoes and Kilmore streets.

"What people constantly took from the [Gap Filler] events was not a new understanding of earthquake recovery or how Christchurch is such a cool place, but more often it was a new understanding of how Perth must do similar things if it is to create a better future," wrote Peter Newman, a professor of sustainability at Curtin University, Perth, which helped fund Reynolds' trip.

"People were genuinely affected," Dr Renee Newman-Storen wrote of Reynolds' talk to about 70 residents, councillors and business owners of Bunbury, Western Australia, earlier this month. He discussed the "possible barriers that the community might come up against developing projects like that of Gap Filler and suggested ways that these barriers could be eliminated, isolated or moderated", wrote Newman-Storen, an academic at Edith Cowan University, Perth.

On the same Western Australia tour, Reynolds met with residents and local businesses of Stoneville, where about 50 homes were lost to fire last January. Locals "needed to share their stories with him so that he might then give them some advice on how they might cope next", Newman-Storen wrote.

"Sometimes people need no more than . . . permission," Reynolds said. "That sounds valid, go for it," he said, mimicking a pat on the shoulder.

Reynolds also attended a full-day workshop with City of Canning staff and community members on designing a pop-up park, Mike Mouritz from the City of Canning wrote in an email. "As we all seek to enhance our relationship with place, the lessons for Christchurch are incredibly valuable." Other Gap Filler activists will visit Adelaide on a similar mission in October.

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Gap Filler will also bring similar people to Christchurch for the inaugural Congress of Adaptive Urbanism late next month. It will challenge the conventional approach to city making, where "residents are solely consumers of permanent developments created for them - rather than active producers of, and participants in, evolving public space", according to its website. See adaptiveurbanism.org.nz.

- The Press

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