A sea of car parks taking shape

Posted on March 1, 2012 by


One of the best projects to come out of the earthquake mess is undoubtedly the Gap Filler project, which aims to temporarily fill the “gaps”, where buildings once resided, with art installations, activities, gardens and the like. I think it is a fantastic initiative, and deserving of much praise. It not only helps to break up the mundane environment in beat up parts of the CBD and suburban centres, it also sets a really good foundation for developing a city that is creative, fun and artistic, and encourages the revival of communities.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Press reports that the number of Gap Filler projects is being restricted by the number of property owners who have decided to turn empty lots into car parks. A real shame, but possibly another of those “economic realities” we will all have to accept. Unfortunately, for property owners, parking brings in some money. However, there must be balance, surely? Wilsons Parking chief executive Steve Evans says that parking helped the regeneration of empty sites, and that new developments were reliant on people’s ability to park their cars. He also points out that Wilsons have fewer car parks now than before the earthquake.

It is very disheartening to see our city just becoming car parks everywhere. It doesn’t inspire confidence” – Gap Filler co-founder and project co-ordinator Coralie Winn 

However, there must be a point when we have to ask how many car parks we actually need? Not all empty spaces can be turned into car parks, it simply isn’t sustainable, and certainly Gap Fillers help the regeneration of communities too. As with constant debate about the CBD, we often focus too much on the “where can I park my car” rather than on the actual destination. Take Sydenham, for example. For a start, the area has plenty of (free) car parks already, including plenty of parking down side streets. It is also on a major and very frequent bus route. Does it need more car parks? Sydenham has really fired-up as a destination in its own right, and is one of the most successful areas for the Gap Fillers project, which has undoubtedly been a big factor in the inner-city suburbs revival. People want to go there because they want to go to Sydenham, not because there are some car parks.

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 chief executive Steve Evans

There must be more that we can do with these “gaps” than just turn them into car parks, and certainly some projects can be money earners in the interim until the site is properly rebuilt. Beyond funky installations there is scope for temporary shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, art galleries, you name it. There are plenty of entrepreneurs and business owners out there who were taken out by the quake who might have the skills, knowledge, and flair to set up shop on an empty site for cheap rent. That would have more of an economic and community impact than turning everything into a car park.  

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.” – Property owner Murray Lapworth on a Gap Filler project

Surely property owners can realise that there are other financial opportunities for their vacant plots of land in the short-term before they rebuild other than more and more car parks. Whats more, the threat of an oversupply of car parks seems like a lesser bet to me, with other opportunities possibly posing a much more fruitful economic return. Going forward into the reopening of the CBD, this is perhaps something we need to start thinking about. I will be utterly disappointed if all that empty land in the CBD simply gets turned into a sea of car parking. How is that going to revive the CBD? There will be nothing there for people to see and do once they park up their cars!

Further to this, I worry about the precedent this trend may bring. The outcome of the share-an-idea exercise, which was reflected in the draft City Plan, was that people wanted restrictions on the access to cars into inner-city areas, and wanted more people friendly environments, and improved public transport. Sure we need car parks, but over reliance and lack of balance and management can lead to a situation where the success of an area (for example, the CBD) is effectively capped as you trade away the local environment for “improved” vehicle access. This is the failed policy of the past, that got everyone complaining about the state of the CBD and talking about a new apporach and future. We should be thinking and acting now about improving access through other means to enhance our communities, rather than relying on the same old failed policies of the past.

About Gap Filler:

Gap Filler is a creative urban regeneration initiative started in response to the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Gap Filler aims to temporarily activate vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city. Projects have included: a bicycle powered cinema, art installations, an exhibition documenting architectural change in East Germany after the Wall, painted playable pianos, community chess, a book exchange, a cafe, petanque, live music and poetry, a fun fair, and an office. Their latest project is a coin-operated dance floor, the “DanceOmat”.

It is now administered by the Gap Filler Charitable Trust.