Gap Filler struggles for activity sites

SPACE FILLER: Tim Driver plays a tune for the residents of Woolston in the Painted Piano Gap Filler Project.
SPACE FILLER: Tim Driver plays a tune for the residents of Woolston in the Painted Piano Gap Filler Project.

Landowners would rather rent their empty sites as car parks than see them bring new life to central Christchurch, the Gap Filler group says.

The Gap Filler initiative, which brings art and activity to vacant sites as a way to breathe new life into the city after the quakes, has been struggling to find supportive landowners.

It took two months to find a suitable vacant site for the group's latest project, a coin-operated dance floor dubbed the "DanceOmat".

Gap Filler co-founder and project co-ordinator Coralie Winn said finding suitable land was the biggest hurdle for revitalising projects.

"It is very disheartening to see our city just becoming car parks everywhere. It doesn't inspire confidence," she said.

"For us it has been a long challenge to find willing landowners. A lot of landowners are saying yes to car park operators because they bring in a bit of money. That is what we are up against."

Gap Filler has already brought empty sites to life with events such as bicycle-powered movie screenings and the installation of a giant chessboard on an empty Colombo St site.

Many landowners felt an empty site was more likely to be leased, Winn said.

"For us, Sydenham is a really good example of what we can do with multiple projects in one area. Sydenham was really badly affected by the September and February quakes. It was closed for so long with fences everywhere.

"Now, Sydenham is busy again and there are lots of reasons for that, but I think Gap Filler has contributed to the positive perception of the area now."

However, Wilson Parking chief executive Steve Evans said parking helped the regeneration of empty sites.

"Every development is reliant on people being able to park their car. Re:Start would not have happened if there hadn't been parking to support it," he said.

"I don't see any connection between a stifling of development and car parks using those properties. I think the reverse is the case."

Wilson Parking was "operating less car parking in Christchurch than before the quake", he said.

Property owner Murray Lapworth said a Gap Filler project on his vacant Colombo St site was beneficial.

"It turned a demolition site into a community attraction ... for the tenants in that building it means that their premises are more accessible and there is more foot traffic coming to them."

Winn said the DanceOmat would be installed on a central city St Asaph St site in the next two weeks.

The installation will feature a coin-operated dance floor, lights and speakers. Visitors will be able to plug their MP3 player into a converted laundrette washing machine and pay $2 to use the sound and lighting system for 30 minutes.

The Press