What is Life in Vacant Spaces?
Life in Vacant Spaces (LIVS) is an independent Trust established in June 2012. LIVS acts as an umbrella organisation working on behalf of the city-making movement with Gap Filler, Te Pūtahi, Greening the Rubble, and many other groups and individuals. LIVS manages privately owned property for landowners and finds short and medium-term uses for the countless vacant sites and buildings of our city. Our mission is to cut through red tape and unlock permissions, making vacant space available to creative Christchurch and enabling hundreds of temporary activations.
LIVS does not own properties or permanently develop sites, rather we coordinate complementary and evolving temporary uses until a future long term activity takes place.
What does LIVS do?
The role of LIVS is to do the background work that lowers the barriers and risks for temporary uses of vacant spaces.
Property owners license their sites and buildings to LIVS while they are untenanted or are awaiting development. LIVS manages the short-term use, covering liability and other insurances, taking over basic maintenance and providing amenities if possible (running water, power, WiFi, etc). LIVS supports the property owner to the maximum extent possible to ensure that their involvement does not cost or burden them and that their contribution is seen as a positive contribution to the community.
LIVS then finds ‘custodians’ who use the properties for creative and/or commercial purpose until the owner finds a permanent tenant or is ready to proceed with redevelopment. LIVS often guides these project participants during their planning stages, but does not get involved in the project management once the participants are on site.
How does LIVS benefit Christchurch?
Landowners are faced with many stages of recovery. The first stage is planning; it necessitates little investment but requires careful consideration of future use. LIVS manages sites during this phase, allowing the space to evolve (density, land values, market demographic) to the point where the conditions are right to develop the property. LIVS projects ensure that the site will be cared for, and activity on site boosts foot traffic to the area, helping to maintain the site’s and area’s value and appeal. These projects create destinations popular with residents and visitors by cleaning up unused space and providing a legitimate use, making the area safer. Making spaces available for temporary use fosters an entrepreneurial class, enhancing the reputation and prosperity of the region as a whole.
For projects participants:
LIVS provides an opportunity to trial an idea and see if it works. Taking on a temporary site is a low cost means to test drive a brand and get their name known. It’s a means of collaboration and healthy competition between innovators as ideas are shared and synergies are found. It is also a means of participation and creative expression. By using a LIVS site, participants become an active part of the rebuild and contribute to the reimagination of their city.
For the community:
LIVS spaces benefit the community by contributing to the social life of cities, fostering a culture of participation and production, encouraging people to go out and explore the city. This boosts the economy by connecting neighbourhoods and improving the streetscape by creating natural public gathering spaces. The income and spending on these sites is hyper-local and creates synergies with existing businesses. They express community character and provide authentic, place based tourism that is a point of pride for locals and a point of interest for visitors. Cities that are seen to provide opportunities for innovators with friendly laws and regulations will attract entrepreneurs on an international level.
Where has LIVS come from?
The creators of Gap Filler approached their supporters at Christchurch City Council in mid-2011 when the number of vacant space project ideas coming in from the community was exploding. Council commissioned Gap Filler to write a research report into similar initiatives around the world. With input from many other local groups, the report recommended the creation of a brokering entity, following many of the principles of Renew Newcastle (Australia). In June 2012, Council announced funding for LIVS in the Annual Plan, and contracted the Gap Filler Chair to work with them towards setting up the new independent trust.
What makes a good LIVS project?
We’re open to all ideas, but these are some things that excite us:
It engages the community, adding life to the city – We’re interested in projects that have a public face, making our city vibrant. We’re keen on projects that have a presence on site. While installations can be great, we’ve noticed that the most successful sites are managed by people keeping regular hours. We’re unable to provide space for private offices or storage or other things that are hidden away or exclusive.
It is unique – LIVS does not want the central city to become another suburban shopping centre or to be filled with lots of very similar projects. We want a wide variety of unique creative things and energies – especially those that are locally-produced and ‘owner-operated’. We want to work with people who are passionate about their ideas.
It gives people reasons to stay in, or even move to, Christchurch – We’d love to support things that fill a niche that’s not otherwise catered for in Christchurch.
You are serious and determined – We have a limited number of spaces available so our support will go to people who are serious about what they are doing and have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve. The more you can demonstrate that you know what you are doing and why you are doing it, the easier it is for us to support it.
It is ready – Taking on a space is a big commitment. We’re looking for people who are up for the challenge and will follow through quickly. Ideal projects build upon your team’s experience and aren’t a total leap into the unknown.
It has a suitable site – We have to comply with all the zoning, noise and other regulations, just like any other activity or business. Some ideas will be much harder to find a suitable home for.
How does LIVS select projects?
When we receive applications, LIVS’ staff weighs them up against a variety of factors, many of which are listed above. We compare them to other applications we have received and to properties that might be available. No matter how good a project is, if we don’t have a suitable property we simply can’t make it happen.
LIVS prioritises projects based on how ready they are to proceed and how difficult they would be to achieve with the resources available. We also work to make the best use of any given area, to collocate complementary projects and make the best use of available sites.
After receiving your written submission, if we think your project could be suitable for an available space we will meet with you and assess the project in more detail. If the project needs more thought and development we can provide a bit of guidance through advice, resources, or connections.
How long does LIVS have properties for?
Our default license agreement allows property owners to give 30 days’ notice at any time should they receive a commercial offer or need to proceed with development. This enables the owner to provide the property without sacrificing potential commercial returns. On vacant lots, the landowners usually know months ahead of redevelopment and they are good about communicating with LIVS. However, projects still need to be prepared to vacate within 30 days if necessary.
As the initiative is based on temporary use it is inevitable that projects will be given notice to vacate. When that happens, LIVS will work with successful projects to find new sites but this cannot be guaranteed.
In some instances, sites will be available for fixed terms longer than 30 days, but if your project requires a guaranteed longer timeframe, it will be more difficult for us to find you a suitable site.
Life in Vacant Spaces could not exist without the support of our funders and sponsoring partners. We are grateful for funding from the Christchurch City Council and the Canterbury Community Trust. We are supported by a range of great companies and organisations, from legal counsel to the supply of engineering advice. Our partners are generous of time and resource. They believe Christchurch is the place to be NOW. Together, we're making it easier for you to have a stake in reimagining the city.
PO Box 8621
Sign up to our (irregular!) email newsletter to hear the latest on what we're up to.