Five years of filling gaps

Gap Filler is an organisation that seems to embody the potential inherent in a city rebuilding itself – innovative, creative and brave. Out of rubble-strewn vacant land they have created a series of bustling hubs of activity. A fridge that you can borrow books from, a set of bleachers on wheels, a bike-powered cinema, a public dance venue – these are just a selection of the “temporary” projects that have brought life to Christchurch’s inner city.  And they’ve been doing it for 5 years now.

That’s right, Gap Filler recently celebrated its fifth birthday. What started out as a relatively small scale project as a result of the demolitions following the 4 September 2010 quake became something much more in the course of things.

Gap Filler #1
Gap Filler crowd (Mo-mo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

I was there on the first night of the first ever Gap Filler project on 25 November 2010. My friends and I sat around on a hodge podge range of chairs, stools and cushions on the site of what had been an auto-electricians, and a mexican restaurant. We listened to music and watched 1928 film A Daughter of Christchurch projected onto a neighbouring wall. It was jolly and novel and sort of uplifting and I’ve been a fan of Gap Filler ever since.

So I asked Co-founder and Chair of the Gap Filler Trust, Dr Ryan Reynolds, about the organisation and what it’s achieved since that first gap, what seems like a lifetime ago.

When you first started Gap Filler did you envisage it going for this long?

No way! We started up after the September quake, and from memory we were maybe thinking ahead to 5-6 projects total each of which might occupy a vacant site for a few weeks. And we were definitely thinking of one at a time. After the February quake that all changed because the need and interest were both much greater. Now we’ve done around 70 projects, and often have 8-10 going simultaneously – some of which have been going for four years (like the Think Differently Book Exchange, aka The Book Fridge!).

One of the great things about Gap Filler is the variety in the projects it undertakes – book fridges, mini-golf, bike-powered cinema etc – where do you get your ideas from? Is there anything you wouldn’t attempt?

Ryan Reynolds
Gap Filler Co-founder, Dr Ryan Reynolds

Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. We generate a lot from within the team, but many are suggested by others (like Sarah Gallagher and the book exchange) or we take inspiration from things we see in our real and virtual travels.

I think the strength is that we operate as a collective, so there’s no individual ownership of ideas. That means – wherever the idea comes from – we work together with our whole team and with artists and communities of interest to make every idea a collective idea that’s as strong and purposeful as it can be.

As the city changes and evolves, how has Gap Filler changed with it?

We see ourselves as a catalyst organisation, so we try very hard not to repeat ourselves or to duplicate what other people are doing in the city. For instance, we facilitated quite a few big street art and mural projects in the early days, but as lots of other organisations started doing street art, that’s not something we do any more. And we try to tap into citywide possibilities.

So for instance CCC has started sniffing around the possibility of adopting a local community currency (which we think would be great) so we’ve started doing some projects this year with an aim to explore and promote alternative economies. If we can get more people interested, it might help CCC get their much bigger project off the ground.

What one thing that Gap Filler has achieved are you most proud of?

Whenever I hear someone say that Gap Filler helped them feel like new things are possible here, I feel good.

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Chatting with New Zealand’s Threatened Species Ambassador

Nicola Toki and a kiwiToday marks the beginning of Conservation Week and who better to talk to about nature and conservation than New Zealand’s own Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki.

A what ambassador? The Threatened Species Ambassador is a new role that was established within the Department of Conservation earlier this year. Perhaps we’d best ask Nic what that involves exactly…

What does a Threatened Species Ambassador do?

My job is to raise awareness and profile of our threatened species in NZ, and the issues they face that are impacting on their survival. NZ has the dubious honour of having one of the highest numbers of threatened species in the world (799 threatened and another 2700 ‘at risk’).

New Zealand’s flora and fauna is so amazing it has been described by author Jared Diamond as ‘…as close as we will get to the opportunity to study life on another planet’ because it is so unique from anywhere else. Rudyard Kipling described NZ’s environment as the “Last, loneliest, loveliest…”

How does someone get to do a job like that?

I have worked in a bunch of jobs where I have been an advocate for nature in New Zealand, in DOC last time around I was lucky enough to write and present “Meet the Locals” a series of 200+ mini wildlife documentaries for TVNZ’s digital channels. I also worked for Forest & Bird as a conservation advocate, and I used to have a job taking people swimming with Hector’s dolphins a very long time ago when I finished University. (I also sold a lot of polar fleece while at Varsity at my local Kathmandu store).

What made you want to be New Zealand’s Threatened Species Ambassador?

I have been a ‘nature nerd’ for as long as I can remember – lots of family trips camping in our wee pop-top caravan (which I now go camping in with the bloke and our two year old son), and I was lucky enough to spend part of my childhood in Mount Cook National Park and Twizel, so spent a lot of time outdoors. I was constantly bringing home animal skeletons, shells, feathers and assorted nature paraphernalia.

What one thing could we do to help a threatened species survive?

The best thing you can do is learn more about what makes our wildlife here so special and unique. Read lots of books about it, go outdoors and have a poke around! The more you learn, the more you’ll be blown away by how ancient and wonderful our flora and fauna are. Did you know that our native frogs are so ancient they were literally hopping around the feet of dinosaurs?

In practical terms, the best thing you can do is set up some pest control at home. Get a good rat/stoat trap and give local birds and reptiles and invertebrates a place to thrive. If every person in every house in NZ did this, who knows what we could achieve for our native wildlife. Kiwi in our backyard maybe! Then you can build on that by finding out what are the best things to plant in your area, then you’ll have a whole mini-National Park at home!

For more on wildlife conservation –