How Morespace tackled empty shops, vandalism and promoted local businesses

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The Merri-bek City Council in Melbourne’s inner north faced a few, prominent issues, particularly amid Covid-19 lockdowns. Among them were vacant shops and, with that, the prevalence of vandalism and graffiti. The solution – developed by design agency Your Creative in collaboration with the council – was Morespace, an interactive project that activates empty shop-spaces with exhibitions that highlight products made by local businesses and artists. The products are displayed in vacant shop

cant shop windows, are visible through cut outs in decals, and remain in place until the space is leased. Passersby can then purchase the products and services through QR Codes that are displayed in the exhibition.

The project aims to showcase previously-derelict properties as attractive commercial spaces, promote local artists and makers, and improve the look and feel of the local retail precincts.

Your Creative Director Lauren Crystal told Inside Retail that the Morespace project – which was a Victorian Premier’s Design Award finalist in 2020 – originally received funding for a few spaces. It has since expanded to 12 sites and 20 shops, promoting 38 diverse businesses and artists across the municipality.

Crystal said that over 500 people visited the online stores, via QR codes, over lockdown.

“Morespace was a response to lots of local businesses and retail shops closing down, and [during lockdown] the council were trying to solve different problems. One was stopping vandalism in the most derelict buildings, while also showcasing the opportunity of the retail space from the agent’s point of view,” she said.

“The other [element] was providing space for creators in the area who don’t have enough funding for their own retail space, and allow them to showcase, market and potentially sell their own products. It was really exciting as a concept.”

She said the agency made a design that can be applied to any shopfront. 

Additionally, everything was made locally, the makers were sourced by the council, and Your Creative designed the wooden boxes, which can expand, contract and be used in different windows. 

“For the public, the streets look brighter, and in lockdown, people would go on little tours and go to all the different Morespaces,” Crystal said.

“It allowed the public to see the products, and be able to shop without needing a physical retailer. 

“It’s definitely still being used [post-lockdown].”

“I had to stop and take a look”

One of the businesses showcased in the biggest Morespace site, at 762-772 Sydney Rd, Brunswick is Frank.Land Ceramics.

Founder Lisa Frankland – who has been making minimal, Scandinavian style tableware ceramics for about five years – said that the project has led to a significant number of website views.

She added that the installation format suited her work, and that it was nice to have a curated window which showed the community what these businesses and artists have to offer.

“I’ve had a few friends contact me and say, ‘I was riding past. I saw the windows and noticed your work. I had to stop and take a look.’ That was nice, because I hadn’t told those people, [and] it was probably the best gauge that people are seeing the windows,” she said.

“The decals are so striking, [and] it really draws people’s attention.”

Frankland added that the project has reinvigorated what were empty shops in disrepair.

“It was depressing to have a bunch of shops that were empty, and basically boarded up,” she said.

“It could be the artist side of me, but your user experience of walking down the street, and in public spaces, can have a real impact on your mood. So I think it’s had a positive impact on that part of the scenery.”

At the time of interview, Crystal said she hadn’t seen vandalism on any of the public displays. She attributed this to community pride.

“Instead of just making them pretty, if you turn these [empty shop fronts] into functional spaces for small businesses and creatives to showcase their work, it makes people feel proud about their area, and they don’t want to wreck it,” she said.

“Though, obviously I’m not speaking to vandals directly.” 

Merri-bek city council mayor Mark Riley added that the Morespace program has created, and continues to create, exciting opportunities for microbusinesses.

He said it has also helped to rejuvenate retail strips and vacant shop fronts which were getting hit hard by graffiti and vandalism in the height of the pandemic.

“The Morespace program is helping to once again light our retail precincts up, and support Merri-bek’s micro businesses,” he said. 

“It’s community innovation at its best.”

Frank.Land Ceramics. Supplied, with photo credit: Martina Gremmola

Augmented reality or public museums

Crystal said the concept – which has been replicated in another local council, and has received interest from councils across Australia – might not last long if the properties are quickly leased out. This, she said, is a mark of their success. 

The Morespace concept could potentially be applied outside of retail environments, Crystal explained, and could be explored via augmented reality, where passersby use QR codes to see the products without them physically being there. She said that the technology is already available, and the creative agency has already had preliminary discussions, but it would depend on funding.

The Morespace concept could be used as a public museum, or as part of an interactive walk, Crystal said, rather than as a commercial solution.

Crystal added that it’s rare for problems related to empty shop spaces and vandalism to be tackled via creative design and thinking. But, it showed the impact that it can have.

“What’s proven is, if you instil that sense of community pride, [everyone] feels like they have ownership,” she said.

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