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Abandoned and damaged Christchurch spaces en route to becoming public havens

Cracked, unsightly and derelict spaces in Christchurch aren’t uncommon following the September 4th earthquake last year. But a collaborative effort between a number of organisations has been putting a greener and more leisure focused spin on the destruction, turning lonesome city centre sites into p

Cracked, unsightly and derelict spaces in Christchurch aren’t uncommon following the September 4th earthquake last year. But a collaborative effort between a number of organisations has been putting a greener and more leisure focused spin on the destruction, turning lonesome city centre sites into public recreational green havens, even if it is only temporary. 

Greening the Rubble, together with Gap Filler, created the informal group Make-SHIFT, running under the umbrella of Living Streets Aotearoa. Since December 19, the community-led, Christchurch City Council-backed project has been hard at work bringing vitality back into the city centre, a move it describes as “a positive alternative to car parks”. Its current and first project Victoria Green, located on the corner of Victoria and Salisbury streets, is on track to be completed at the end of February. 

Victoria Green plan drawn up by Julia Moore

What makes the project unique is that the redesigned public spaces are designed to be only temporary. Rhys Taylor from Living Streets Aotearoa says the green space is designed so it can be dismantled and moved, ready to be implemented into another area. 

“The idea is to make and shift,” he says. 

Among the design features of Victoria Green site are trees in metal planter boxes and simple informal seating made with metal gabions (boxes) filled with broken bricks from the earthquake. 

“We wanted the broken bricks to be visible,” says Taylor.  

Volunteers at work using demolished building bricks to fill gabions that retain a sloping lawn and provide informal seating

The space also features a sloping wall and paths made from a special recycled brick aggregate, created using old earthquake bricks. The aggregate, supplied by 360 urban, was made especially for the site. 

Christchurch City Council will also be loaning the project a set of trees that, like the rest of the park’s design features, can be picked up and moved to another location when the time is right. 

And bringing an extra boost to the project, this coming Tuesday members of the Canterbury Crusaders will be lending their muscle by helping lay turf for the lawns on the site. Tuesday will also see the special unveiling of a unique brick art wall courtesy of Austral Bricks, who are promoting the use of modern brick laying. 

But Taylor says none of this would have been possible without the help of members of the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects. He says prominent firms have helped out with the project and that as well as designing the plans, the designershave  also “got in and got their hands dirty”. 

“Their designers have made this happen,” he says. 

Of course landowners play a critical role too. Taylor says the group has received great support from the landowners of the site—the Macfarlane Family Trust and prominent Christchurch hairdresser Carl Watkins. 

“They will redevelop the site but they have offered it to us free of charge until they are ready to build”. A date Taylor tentatively says could be sometime in June. 

For his part, Taylor says Living Streets have been responsible for the logistics of the project, for example securing insurance, negotiating with landowners and sourcing materials. 

Once completed, the space will also be used for short-term arts and community events. 

While the Victoria Green project is due for completion at the end of the month, its only the start for what the group hopes will be many more green space developments in the city. And to help build on the momentum, the group is currently on the lookout for some Christchurch or Canterbury-based web designers who can volunteer a few hours to help get the website up and running in an easy to manage format. If you’re a savvy web designer who’s keen to lend your skills to the project, you can contact Rhys at rhys.taylor@livingstreets.org.nz.

Artist impression by Julia Moore

Launch day December 19

Progress, January 30

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