Christchurch’s Elevated Garden City

The opportunity

The 2010-11 Canterbury earthquakes are an opportunity to create something special in Christchurch.

Imagine a garden city where we took the Manhattan rooftop garden to whole new level.

Given that most people in the CBD will not want to live and work in high rises, then this new set of low rise buildings give Christchurch the opportunity to build an elevated garden/walkway space that could become one of the world’s iconic cities.

Instead of the roofs being wasted space it would be possible to make the space useful and linked with walk/cycle ways. You could walk bare foot around the CBD on grass without your feet ever touching the ground. Visitors landing in our fair city would look down on roofs of pure green. With new sustainable, energy-conscious buildings we would become the greenest city in New Zealand inside and outside.

The roof space could be used for:

  • Parks
  • Cafes/Bars
  • Shop fronts
  • Office entrances
  • Playgrounds
  • Court yards
  • Sports areas
  • Iconic wooden bridge designs
  • Slopes from other public spaces could go up the elevated gardens
  • Not all space has to be public could be office BBQareas etc
  • Taller buildings that look out over the gardens
  • Bird sanctuary – (no rats or cats)
  • Native forest – Riccarton park (maybe turn Latimer square into this?)
  • Bike hire scheme
  • Lots of other creative things

How it will work from a planning point of view

  • Every new building has to have half (or 1/3 or 2/3) of the second or third floor dedicated as open space
  • The council will create a network of linked walk/cycleways connecting the second or third floor roof spaces
  • This will be a relatively simple set of rules that would allow building owners/architects lots of flexibility and creative options.
  • Could start small in the centre initially but could grow long term to take in all 4 avenues.


  • Relatively low cost way to create a city that could become an iconic world destinations for tourists and creative people
  • Every building has an extra elevated street frontage
  • Ability to do something a bit different with each property depending on if it is housing, office, cafe, retail etc – creative options for all buildings.
  • There will be vastly more useful space in CBD not just dead roof space!
  • Can still use relatively inexpensive building techniques but create something dramatically different and unique when linked together
  • Easy to get started and can expand over time
  • People will be able to walk and bike around without cars in an easy, safe way – will probably be the preferred way to get around town on short journeys
  • Building interfaces will be standardized sothe bridges can be relatively inexpensive – only foot and bike traffic
  • Still has possibility for good urban density – backyard on roof as the concept expands to the out skirts of four avenues
  • Very simple set of planning rules that still allows lots of room for creativity but ties the city together in a distinctive iconic way

concept image from Helsinki-based Sauerbruch Hutton

Picture 6 of 6

Related Image: concept image from Helsinki-based Sauerbruch Hutton (was winner of Low2No design competition)

About grant

Grant Ryan is an addicted inventor/entrepreneur (YikeBike, SLI-Systems, GlobalBrain) and is on the board of Canterbury Development Corporation and Ministry of Science and Innovation.
This entry was posted in The idea. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Christchurch’s Elevated Garden City

  1. Julian says:

    Woah! That is long comment Simon!

    It wasn’t until I checked out your website that I saw that it is a repost of something you wrote on your blog.

    Lots of interesting ideas in there, not directly related to the Elevated Garden City concept, but very much in keeping with the philosophy that we have to do something iconic. I like your thinking about including the costs of a international data-pipeline out of Christchurch as part of the installation of a city-wide UFB network, just sounds smart.

    The idea that intrigued me the most was the Venice of the South concept, interconnected water-ways through out the city. It sounds pretty crazy at first, but much like the EGC concept, I can see that it could work in some areas of the city, and add to the uniqueness of new Christchurch in the 21st century.

    The cycle-ways throughout the city are definitely on the agenda already, (based on the amount of support the concept got at ShareAnIdea and on other forums) so I hope that we (by which I mean everyone involved in rebuilding Christchurch) can do it justice.

  2. Simon Taylor says:

    We, the people of New Zealand, give the glass-fibre infrastructure along with a data-pipeline connecting it to the world to Christchurch.

    This is the cap-stone of my idea to build Christchurch as an economically productive – high-tech, sustainable – green, and above all a new city.

    The cost of the UFB – Ultra-Fast Broadband – network proposed for NZ is said to be in the vicinity of $6 billion, the product of a government partnership with Telecom. Without a serviceable data-cable connecting it to the world, an additional $400 million or so, the UFB is subject to existing data-caps on the single service New Zealand currently has connecting it with the United States.

    I suggest we deal directly with the issue of Christchurch’s productivity by connecting it with an integrated civic-wide UFB network that has built into its cost the necessary international data-pipeline. The national UFB project and the need to think about the future of the city of Christchurch are opportunities for economic progress that can be brought together and must be thought of conjointly as an unprecedented opportunity.

    Rebuilding Christchurch’s infrastructure should not be limited to restoring it. We ought to be looking at both future-proofing it and using the rebuild as incentive to encourage investment in the city. Restoration is not sustainable; innovation is.

    What will sustain the city is what will build World City Christchurch: an environment that will inspire businesses to come is connected globally; an environment that will inspire people to live in it is connected locally and nationally.

    I said that rethinking the national UFB without an international cable as a civic UFB with an international cable was the cap-stone of my idea for Christchurch. There are two further aspects to the vision that work in harmony with it.

    A system of canals is built for the transportation of heavy goods throughout the city. The system would be woven in to the fabric of the city, joining it to the wider water-network of the Canterbury Planes: the Garden City linked to its gardens.

    Such a system of water-ways has been considered before, at the period of Christchurch’s establishment. Since aquifers and subterranean rivers and streams are a feature of the Planes, it is a plan that deserves another look. Not only a Venice of the South but a city determined not to sink back into the swamp of liquefaction.

    The third element to this plan already has widespread endorsement: the Copenhagenization of Christchurch; a network of cycle-ways connect the city, with ‘green corridors’ through parks, encouraging people to ride by taking cycle-paths away from roads, making them safe, and also enhancing the natural beauty of the city. (Perhaps Christchurch would then be helmet-free, in consideration of the fact that cities where cycle-helmets are mandatory clearly indicate they are not cycle-friendly.)

    These architectures, of a glass-fibre infrastructure hardwired to the world, of a system of canals, and a network of cycle-ways, duly provide for the foundation of a new civic architecture. A new style of city. To start with the buildings and the houses is to recreate the past, to try and bring it back, rather than to discover in the middle of this crisis anything new. The city could again be beautiful, but it will never be as it was.

    If the Christchurch earthquakes constitute a national disaster, then the nation ought to be doing more than being asked to pay up. If Christchurch’s disaster has had, as the Prime Minister has stated, a deleterious affect on GDP unparalleled in New Zealand’s history, then New Zealand ought to be encouraging the building of a productive city, a city that can pay back.

    In its rush into public relations disaster, in the guise of disaster-control, I don’t think the prospect of economic growth has been seriously considered as a part of the so-called rebuild. Through building a city that will by the very nature of its civic architecture and infrastructure attract investors, entrepreneurs and inhabitants, Christchurch ought to make a greater economic contribution. The build needs to take on this vision of a city with the potential for real and sustainable growth.

    Please contact me here if you support this plan and wish to promote its cause.


    On Silicon Valley Christchurch:

    “Christchurch has a window of opportunity” – here

    Mention of the Venice of the South:

    “The Venice of the South Pacific we might have been had the proposal gone ahead for the city to be connected to the sea via the Avon-Heathcote estuary to the south and the Waimakariri River to the North.” – here

    On Copenhagenization:

    “JG: We’re commissioned to rebuilding efforts in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the recent earthquake. They want to use the opportunity to get rid of many of the bad compromises from the 20th century, which are burdening all cities in the western world. They want to make a very good city for the 21st century, rather than just repeating all the errors from the past. Interesting…and humbling.” – here

  3. Ben says:

    I absolutely love this idea. Rooftop gardens are something I have been looking at for a while now, as I think they are brilliant. I have also always looked at the use of space downtown and imagined so many more efficient ways to do it, and I really think you’re onto something here.

    The ideas put forth on this website are intriguing, and I love them. I’m not sure I’m posting this in the correct place, but here are a few of my own thoughts:

    -What if each rooftop garden were on the same level so that biking and walking around on that level would be easy. I love the “rolling hills” idea but biking up a ten foot (vertical) hill is exhausting, especially a few times on the way to work.
    -Instead, what if we require each building to have at least half (for example) of its rooftop area at a certain level and then make that level the main pedestrian level. Each building would be required to provide access to neighbouring buildings according to some pedestrian pathway master-plan that the city maintains.
    -Some buildings may choose to have their entire rooftop at that level, but others may choose to make half of their building a bit higher or lower. This would allow them interesting views or private gardens for their staff, and may create that rolling hills effect after all. We could limit the amount of story’s to be added above the main pedestrian level so that no building would be too tall and block the sun for others.

    Thanks for reading, and good luck!

  4. Jacksotimo says:

    I second Ryan M’s point about having the chance to give the city features as iconic as the canals of Venice.

    I really hope the council and others responsible for city development have open minds to ideas like this.

  5. Greg says:

    I like the idea, well done!

  6. dgrogan says:

    I like this elevated garden city concept. It’s a valid approach for a 21st century city and could easily incorporate ‘green’ aspects for a modern, yet relaxed lifestyle. Well done.
    Now lets encourage people to add to these ideas to make them truly outstanding. Well done. Rise up Christchurch.

  7. Deb says:

    On the right Track! Wonderful, Excellent! The Cathedral has to stay in some shape and form that links the city centre from the forefathers to the future. Cobwalkways in some sections that link the foot to the ground and being accessible to alot of people crisscrossing in their daily routine and spreading out to modernity. At the beginning of March I had a ‘dreamglimpse’ of a large piazza style open space, with poplars or birch looking iconic Cantabrian trees lining the areas leading to the avenues and people looking up at an open space, autumn light, smiling and greeting faces with the Cathedral in the central view. Good Luck

  8. Dan says:

    I think it’s a cool idea, but will be way under used many months of the year (winter especially). A tad exposed for winter, too. But I do like it! Really become the Garden City!

  9. Daniel says:

    You’re stepping in the right direction. I just hope those who are designing the new buildings don’t opt for box-designs. Organic shapes are simply better and would accompany your idea of roofed gardens very well.

  10. Ryan M says:

    What a great idea!
    My biggest worry since the Earth Quakes is that no one will want to go back into the central city, but with something like this it gives people a way to go into the city without feeling like they are in a city.
    An elevated garden city like this will be an iconic city think Venice with it’s water ways.

Leave a Reply