In a corner of this remarkable rebuilding project, communities are coming together to design a new park

David Cash

Our Antipodean cousins have never experienced the devastating effect which warfare can have on the physical fabric of their cities as generally, their battles have been fought far from home. However since February 2011, Christchurch has felt remarkably like a war zone. The impact of the second earthquake to hit the city within a year was catastrophic as a huge swathe of its buildings collapsed. Subsequently many more had to be flattened and there have been over 10,000 aftershocks. To compound matters and in common with many other parts of the world, the city also recently endured a “1 in 100 years” flood event.

For nearly a year, Christchurch has become a second home for my landscape architect colleague, Andrew Tindsley, and it is a place for which clearly he has developed great affection. During this period, Andrew and eight more of BDP’s landscape architects and urbanists have been regularly circumnavigating the globe in order to play their part in a co-located team working alongside Kiwi landscape architects, structural and geotechnical engineers, transport specialists and ecologists. Together they are responsible for the ‘Avon River Project’ for which Andrew is lead designer. As a key part of the first phase of reconstruction, this major public realm project will provide Christchurch with a new linear park along the 3.2 km length of the river as it meanders its way through the city. Whilst the river is generally about 10 metres wide, the park extends to around 200 metres in places taking in adjacent streets and spaces many of which are to be traffic free. At its heart is the central business district where the design is all about encouraging outdoor living.

This project offers an ideal opportunity to correct past mistakes and create a new Christchurch which sensitively weaves together the traditions and values of different cultures

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), cultural issues have been to the fore. Christchurch has long had a reputation as being a piece of little England, the most English of New Zealand’s cities. The European population is closely attached to it and identifies closely with it. However, for centuries this land was also home to Ngai Tahu, part of the Maori community who felt that for the last 150 years, their heritage had been largely overlooked.

This project offers an ideal opportunity to correct past mistakes and create a new Christchurch which sensitively weaves together the traditions and values of both cultures. Whilst such a lofty ideal is laudable, in reality it is not an easy task to achieve. As invariably happens when different communities come together, careful engagement with the involved parties is essential so that all sides feel they have been fairly represented. For this design team, sometimes it has felt as if they have been treading on the thinnest of eggshells.

Happily, an inspiring solution has now emerged. The design incorporates an urban promenade, cycle routes, a variety of new public spaces and what Andrew describes as a ‘botanical adventure’. The design phase of the project which has a construction value of around NZ$ 120m or £60m is now about to end. Work on site will soon commence and is due to be completed by the end of 2015. That’s when I look forward to a walk in a distant and very special park!

David Cash is chairman of BDP