Reflections on seven years of placemaking: Placemaking at One Central in Ōtautahi Christchurch – Ryan Reynolds with Coralie Winn

Apr 2, 2023

Seven Years of Placemaking at One Central. As the programme nears its final months we thought it worthwhile to reflect.


The Placemaking at One Central (PMOC) programme, a partnership between Gap Filler and Fletcher Living since late 2016, is in its final stages, with the last temporary projects due to be deinstalled by the end of 2023 as the final site gets developed with new homes.

This has been the largest sustained placemaking programme in Aotearoa, yielding 27 community installations, 50 major and 113 small events across a six-block area as it transitioned from completely vacant sites to a neighbourhood of 940 new homes.

Fletcher Living approached Gap Filler to design a programme of activities for the sites awaiting future development. Aiming to reach consensus on what such a programme should try to achieve, we started by working with mana whenua, the community, interest groups and area residents. The agreed list of objectives became: build identity, community and connection; bring the area to life; foster partnerships and collaboration; encourage long-term stewardship and sustainability; and stimulate central city living. It was immediately apparent that to achieve these objectives, we had to make it attractive for lots of people and partner organisations to deliver their own projects and events here, and not dream up and do everything ourselves.

Our approach to the programme

Ultimately, we nearly quadrupled the budget for the programme by giving notice to Wilson Parking and running the car park ourselves under the Good Spot brand (created by Gap Filler). By channeling all the parking profits back into the programme, it enabled us to create countless paid opportunities for local community (such as Te Whare Roimata, an inner-city East community organisation), creative and recreational groups to expand their operations and bring more life to the city.

A development of this scale – especially in a volatile and uncertain post-quake environment – was always going to be subject to lots of changes. The timeframe and staging of the 15-superlot development changed constantly. Our projects needed to fill the space in multiple senses, yet always be light-touch enough to wrap up or relocate when the development was ready to proceed. This was not always easy. 

A large part of our role has been to manage the transitory nature of things and develop strategies to have long-term impact, knowing that every project was temporary. We achieved this partially by focusing on capability building and social capital, so initiatives that got their start with PMOC (like YCD’s FRESH Events) have been poised to carry on without us and our sites. 

We took a prototyping approach (as we often do at Gap Filler), in that our role was to help test new things for the city. If they had merit, we would try to find other avenues for their longevity. When our youth space had to wind down, we donated the giant spray cans to Watch This Space; after a couple of years in storage, they’ve now partnered with CCC and recreated a new basketball court and street art space along St Asaph Street. Completely independently from us. Likewise, the Tool Lendery has just been relocated to Stanmore Road in Linwood and will now help support that community.

In late 2023/early 2024, the big orange #chchswing and Detour track will wind down. The swing can be relocated. Due to the nature of how Detour was built it can’t be moved, but it has already inspired multiple suburban projects like it, and may yet prompt a new permanent track in the central city.

Interestingly, it is the central government that made this whole programme possible. In their central city masterplan ‘Blueprint’ for the recovery of Ōtautahi Christchurch (2012), the five blocks along Manchester Street between Lichfield and St Asaph were designated for housing, with a developer to be appointed in the future. The development agreement created by the Crown stipulated that as the development would happen in stages, the vacant lots awaiting development needed community activation rather than sitting behind temporary fences gathering rubbish and weeds, or being left open for rogue (and let’s just say it – ugly) car parking. We know that the government development manager had witnessed the positive impact from the explosion of community-driven, creative, post-quake activities that we’d been a big part of, and wanted to facilitate that type of activity in this new neighbourhood.

The Placemaking at One Central programme has naturally had its highs and lows – and some projects that experience ongoing problems or never quite achieve the outcomes we’d all imagined. When you take an experimental approach, there will always be things that work and things that don’t.

Numbers and impacts

Overall, the numbers are pretty strong. We activated six sites with close to 200 defined projects and events working with a wide range of communities. A big highlight for our team was the Detour pump track which has seen thousands and thousands of kids and adults on bikes, skates and scooters in its four years of existence ripping it up and building confidence. We were immensely proud of the two community Good Spot car parks that, in partnership with community organisation Te Whare Roimata, generated significant income for the neighbourhood and employed marginalised people from the community. (Gap Filler was awarded a Sustainable Business Award in 2022 for Social Impact, in large part due to Good Spot.)

The range of people we worked with was wide and varied. From youth involved in the giant spray cans for street art and the basketball court, to the users of the Tool Lendery, the young families at the pump track and the heritage mini-golf course, small business operators at the Food Collective, marginalised people from Te Whare Roimata, office workers at the Good Spot car parks and a small number of new One Central residents at events. We do wonder how we could have done more to empower some of the user groups of the sites within One Central to take more control of how the sites were managed and governed. It was a big challenge for us to cede control and grow authentic community relationships when working in a context where a developer and government agency could decide at any moment to give us notice or overrule any decision we made with the community.

How could we have done better?

We also think the programme could have been stronger at fostering long-term stewardship and sustainability as people moved in. The biggest challenge is reaching the new residents: the largest of the buildings have swipe card access even to reach the letterboxes, and the Body Corporate will only pass information on to owners, not tenants. Privacy laws mean that, even when we’re working with the developer, we can’t be given any contact details. Laws and conventions make companies like Fletcher Living unwilling to explore alternatives to a standard Body Corporate. Especially in areas with a high proportion of renters, this poses a huge challenge for long-term community development. It feels like a missed opportunity to us, and an area where we’ll be focusing some R&D energy in the coming year. 

Did we help bring life and identity to a ‘new’ place? Yes, we did. Without question. Did we help to stimulate medium density central city living in a city which was quite new to that? Almost certainly we did by making the area feel appealing with colour, people and activity. We helped encourage people back to a part of the city where there was, when we began, vast tracts of empty grass and gravel. 

Undoubtedly, this programme created a million moments of play in the city centre within the seven years it ran. For a tiny organisation of about 5 FTE, managing a programme of this scope was a big ask. We almost turned down the opportunity, out of fear of the scale and the compromises required working with such a large developer. We’re glad that we chose to be brave. We started off speaking different languages and having wildly different priorities. Over time, we grew such a trusting relationship and an ability to understand one another’s top concerns without needing to articulate them. And now, Fletcher Living has started taking a placemaking approach on some of their other developments up and down the country. Perhaps that will have the biggest impact of all. 

Written by Ryan Reynolds with Coralie Winn, March 2023