A Great Place to Be: Christchurch locals still want a clean, green garden city

The Botanic Gardens remain a gem in Christchurch's image as a Garden City.

The Botanic Gardens remain a gem in Christchurch's image as a Garden City.

At last year's pilot clean-up, 250 volunteers collected 3.3 tonnes of litter from 5 kilometres of Christchurch river banks. Organisers have renamed this year's event The Mother of All Clean Ups and hope many more volunteers will turn out on Saturday, May 7, to retrieve polystyrene, plastic bottles, bottle tops, and other junk from city waterways.

It's a grand ambition that neatly ties into a Stuff survey of readers and residents called the Great Place To Be campaign.  Hundreds participated and the crystal clear message that came back was that respondents want a "clean, green" city. If that's your desire, then head to the water the day before Mother's Day and help out, or join the many green initiatives also underway in the province. Or start your own.

Clean and green were overwhelming the most common themes to come out of the campaign. A participant from Burwood-Pegasus called for "A modern city that has clean green spaces that can be enjoyed by all". 

"I want Christchurch to be all of the following: safe, clean, trendy, vibrant, unique and happy," wrote a reader from Hagley-Ferrymead. Another from Hagley-Ferrymead listed the following: "Green, community-focused, lots of bike lanes, vibrant, things happening and places to congregate".

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The Press survey was unscientific in that respondents selected themselves rather than being selected randomly. But the message is broadly the same as the Share an Idea campaign run by Christchurch City Council in 2011. Leveraging the resources of council and with the ground still shaking regularly, it generated almost 106,000 ideas. 

"Greening the Central City is an overarching theme for the redevelopment," Share an Idea found.

River campaigner Bill Simpson is hoping hundreds will join the Mother of All Clean-Ups of the estuary and the Avon and ...
Dean Kozanic

River campaigner Bill Simpson is hoping hundreds will join the Mother of All Clean-Ups of the estuary and the Avon and Heathcote Rivers on Mother's Day.

The Press also asked readers what they are doing to make Christchurch greater. Graeme Scott mows about 200 metres of grass on public land near his eastern suburb home. Before the earthquakes, council mowed these grass berms but after they stopped, "It got untidy," he said.

"So I decided to do the patch opposite my place." Soon he was mowing more and now spends 2.5 hours a week on public mowing. 

"Too many people expect everybody else to do things," said the retired Catholic cathedral official. "If people do a little bit, it all helps," he said. He didn't want a volunteer city, but everybody should do a little bit.

Leon Hendren is one of the volunteers tending an old orchard in Marshlands. Council bought a portion of the Sunley orchard a few years ago for a Belfast sewer line and in 2014 asked for volunteers to care for the remaining trees.  The Kaputone Community Orchard resulted and they celebrated the plum harvest a few weeks ago.

One dream is to establish a heritage fruit archive on the site. Many old fruits species are now rare and if they die out, getting new seed past biosecurity rules will likely be tough. But if the rare species already here can be propagated, then the community orchard hopes to donate trees to "community initiatives around Christchurch, with the fruit from the orchard going to foodbanks and similar community needs", said Hendren.

Dr Alistair Humphrey warns dog mess will always end up in our waterways if not picked up.
Stacy Squires

Dr Alistair Humphrey warns dog mess will always end up in our waterways if not picked up.

Emeritus professor Ian Spellerberg of Lincoln University wants "zero waste to landfill". People say that's not practical but he responds, "If there is willingness, it is possible". We need to ban plastic shopping bags, put deposits on cans and bottles and change the culture of a throw-away society, he said. 

He is the patron of Te Ara Kakariki Greenway Canterbury Trust, among other endeavours. That trust seeks to increase the less than 1 per cent of indigenous vegetation remaining on the Canterbury Plains by creating "green dots" of managed planting on public or private land. It wants to a establish a corridor of plantings in the province. 

Professor Glenn Boyle from the economics department at the University of Canterbury wanted to inject financial reality into the green wish list, especially when public money was involved. "It's no use wanting to be green when you're already in the red," meaning in debt. "Christchurch will turn out to be bankrupt or more likely severely unaffordable," he said. "It's highly risky to take on nice-to-have things." If you have a vision, you need medication not a budget, he said. 

Another outcome of the Great Place To Be campaign was a stocktake of how well the city and province are doing on green projects. The picture that emerges is sometimes grim and sometimes pleasing.


The future of the red zone remains key to how green the emerging city will be.

The future of the red zone remains key to how green the emerging city will be.

Christchurch river and stream quality is typical of an urban area – not that great, council waterways ecologist Dr Belinda Margetts told an environmental forum at Knox Church in mid-March. 

The causes are many: sediment from construction and unstabilised surfaces; zinc and copper from tyres and building products; bacteria from ducks, dogs and wastewater overflow; nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilisers, soil and faeces. 

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What can regular folks do? Realise the gutter leads to waterways and avoid putting pollutants in them, said Margetts. Don't feed the ducks and geese. And pick up your dog poo. 

That last point is driven home by Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury medical officer of health. "No matter where you are in Christchurch, if you don't pick it up it will end up in a river after rainfall," he said.

As for reducing the numbers of exotic ducks and geese, a city council spokesperson noted that geese and ducks are "not assigned to any one agency for control". Canada geese have been culled in recent times by council, the airport, farmers and landowners. Council efforts are driven by the number of birds, which fluctuates. Council does not target any non-native ducks for control. Meanwhile canada geese are no longer a protected species, which means they may be hunted humanely all year round. 

Downstream at the estuary, efforts to improve water quality so that swimming is possible are "20-30-40 years away, it's a very gradual process," says Bill Simpson, chair of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary Ihutai Trust, a voluntary non-profit with that goal in mind. After being the city's toilet bowl for more than a century, the estuary's health took a sharp upturn when an ocean outfall for treated sewage opened in early 2010. 

Matters declined badly with the earthquakes, but things are improving. "It's generally a positive story," says Simpson. There's still legacy leaching from the settlement ponds, but sea lettuce stench this summer was much reduced. 

Two events are on the trust's radar: First is the Mother of All Clean-ups on May 7. The other is the application city council lodged with ECan for consent to discharge into rivers and the estuary "water and contaminants" for 35 years.

Emeritus professor Ian Spellerberg wants the city to aim for zero waste. "If there is willingness, it is possible."
David Hallett

Emeritus professor Ian Spellerberg wants the city to aim for zero waste. "If there is willingness, it is possible."

This is the "next big step" because stormwater contains heavy metals and other contaminants and they're going into waterways untreated. The estuary should not be a "dumping place" for stormwater, Simpson says. Rather, it should be contained in swales, rain gardens and retention ponds – as happens in new subdivisions. Older parts of the city need to be retrofitted with these techniques, Simpson says, and he hopes ECan insists on upgrades.

Deeper down there's another problem: heavy metals trapped in the muds of the estuary floor from the tannerys and other industries that existed upriver in Woolston and such. Cleaning these up might be 50 or 60 years away, he says. 

In the meantime, Simpson declines to harvest food from the estuary. He remembers catching flounder from the South Shore in the 1950s. Flounder, the trust believes, are an indicator species. If they are seen again in the estuary, it has started to heal. "It would be good to get back to that," he says. 


Cera spent about $1.5 billion buying about 7500 red-zoned properties, most in the Avon River corridor. Since 2011, Evan Smith and allies have been campaigning to turn the whole of the corridor into a park. Not a Hagley Park-style groomed place but mostly a restored native wetland teaming with birds, aquatic life, cycle and walking tracks, picnic spots and perhaps "light footprint' cafes and commercial activities.

Smith's group, the Avon-Otakaro Network, also acts as a clearing house for other groups with ambitions for the Avon corridor, everything from a Riverside Heritage Garden Park to White Water Kayak and Rafting Course to Mahinga Kai, a Ngai Tahu-led collaboration that would bring Maori values to land conservation and use.

All are waiting on the two organisations that replaced Cera recently, Regenerate Christchurch, the joint central government-council agency primarily concerned with long term development of the CBD, residential red zone and New Brighton; and Otakaro Ltd, the Crown-owned company primarily concerned with completing the anchor projects and precincts and sorting out Crown-owned land.

Both have responsibilities in the Avon Corridor, in other words, and the Government expects a "financial return" from its land investments in the residential red zone. "Return can be interpreted multiple ways, not necessarily a short-term financial return, but in social, cultural and environmental returns," Smith says. Maybe there's no return for 100 years.

He points to a study by Lincoln University on the value of benefits of a recreational reserve in the corridor that estimated $94.1m a year in public health savings and ecosystem services. 

The "green frame" will be reduced to a  central park about 45m-50m wide.

The "green frame" will be reduced to a central park about 45m-50m wide.

Smith remains optimistic that some, even all, of Avon-Otakao's dreams will be realised. The worst case-scenario – a 30m-wise strip of green space and walking-cycling paths along each bank of the river – "doesn't cut the mustard".

Among the most ambitious projects in the corridor is East Lake, a flat-water facility for rowing, canoeing and waka ama that would be long enough for international competitions. It would take about 50ha near the old rowing facilities at Kerrs Reach and be separate from the river. It would also be a "beautiful lake amenity" available for swimming, dog walking and other uses, says East Lake Trust chair David Goodman.

East Lake drew some criticism when it was prioritised ahead of other Avon Corridor projects in a letter of expectations to Regenerate Christchurch chair Andre Lovatt.

The trust also got an early meeting with Lovatt and now had "clearer view of process" after years of difficulty with Cera. The trust meets fortnightly and is working on pre-feasibility studies. The plan is to get East Lake into Regenerate Christchurch's actual plan for the corridor and then out for public consultation, Goodman says. He wouldn't be drawn on cost, but says "we're very focused and making significant progress".

Meanwhile, council continues to take ownership of new neighbourhood parks from mostly big developers. In 2015, it got 15 new parks, mostly in the west where subdivisions mostly happen. Council's goal is that 90 per cent of urban residents should live within 400m of a reserve. 

Last year, council dispatched 158,000 small grades plants – everything from grasses to bushy podocarps – and 1300 larger grade specimen trees. These were planted by contractors and volunteers.


Officially called the East Frame, it was never going to be a Green Frame. From the day of the announcement of the blueprint, Cera envisioned residential development in the frame and Fletcher Residential is expected to start development later this year. There will be three residential precincts – Avon, Latimer and Lichfield – with about 2200 people living in them when construction is complete.

David Colyer and other volunteers maintain and harvest a fruit orchard in Marshlands and hope to establish a heritage ...
David Walker

David Colyer and other volunteers maintain and harvest a fruit orchard in Marshlands and hope to establish a heritage fruit archive there

There will be green in the frame, including 16 parks and a long, thin "central park" running through the centre of 15 "neighbourhoods". This park will be about 45m-50m wide and and feature bike and walking paths, street furniture, sculptures,  water gardens, and drainage. 

Cera, now Otakaro Ltd, acquired almost 99 per cent of the land needed for the frame and will demolish the Calendar Girls strip club bunker, but not the Les Mills gym building. No decision had been made on the former IRD building, the 1882 Pavilion building or the carpark behind, according to a spokesman.

Cera has acquired the late-1920s art deco Orion building on Armagh St opposite the Mahy playground and it will become a retail and hospitality complex. 

The South Frame will have less green space. Maps show a walk and cycleway a few metres wide, with some green between dispersed buildings. That plan was recently criticised as unworkable by property leaders. 


"We still have some of the infrastructure of a garden city" says Alan Jolliffe, president of the Canterbury Horticultural Society, especially in Hagley Park and maintained green space in the Four Avenues. But the move away from quarter-acre sections means there is less private space for gardens and garden styles are therefore changing, he says. 

Fewer large trees such as oaks are being planted on private land, for example, and there's a "sameness in gardens driven by easy-to-produce green foliage". Fewer people are looking for plants that are different from the norm. 

"We have a lot of edible gardens at the moment versus those Victorian gardens with lots of annuals and colour," he says. He also sees more native gardens.

He's like to see the more of the wide variety of plants that "grow really well in Christchurch but aren't necessarily natives". That was the secret to the pinnacle of the Christchurch garden city movement – the 1974 Commonwealth Games – that saw gardens planted in Commonwealth colours, Jolliffe says.

In the central city, Jolliffe is hoping to be "surprised" by pocket parks, well planted courtyards and vertical gardens. He wants to turn a corner and be delighted. 

Meanwhile garden competitions may becoming more popular agin, with entries in the CHS competitions higher this year than in the last five to 10 years. "Maybe it's coming back," he says. 

The Canterbury Horticultural Society isn't standing still either. It has joined Otakaro Orchard, a $5m urban garden project on Cambridge Tce next to the former PGC building site. Otakaro Orchard got the $3m lease and is now fundraising $2m to construct an edible park, cafe and local food information centre, which the society will run. 

"We see the project as a key way to enliven our organisation by engaging with younger generations in the very centre of the city," says society manager Tony Kunowski.​

The Otakaro Orchard project is led by the Food Resilience Network, a collaboration of over 30 organisations and 150 people working together under the moniker Edible Canterbury to catalyse a strong local food economy in Canterbury. 

Otakaro Orchard has already done good work. It got prime minister John Key to plant a lettuce at an official event in February. The lettuce was sold as a fundraiser on Trade Me in mid-April, fetching $103. Key admitted it was the first lettuce he had ever planted. 


 - Stuff


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