River Park Vision from Quake Debris

Forest & Bird is standing behind a community drive in Christchurch to turn red zones into green zones by establishing a river park along the banks of the quake ravaged Avon River. By Jolene Williams

More than 5000 red-zone homes along the Avon-Ötakaro River and its tributaries have been too severely damaged by the Christchurch earthquake to be rebuilt as residential properties. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) has yet to decide what will happen to the abandoned properties, but a group of dedicated locals is very clear in its vision.

The Avon-Ötakaro Network (AvON) is campaigning to turn those red zones into a public reserve and river park. The green corridor, from the central city to the coast, would preserve the mature trees and gardens on the abandoned properties as well as revegetate river banks.

AvON envisions the reserve would link with recreational groups such as kayakers, establish cycle paths and walkways and create community gardens that preserve the heritage value of the well-established home gardens.

Forest & Bird Canterbury/West Coast Field Officer Jen Miller says the river park would be “a wonderful thing for the community”.

“We acknowledge the almost unprecedented loss of whole communities and how devastating this must be to those who have no choice butto leave their homes. It would be great to think a beautiful space could be created in the wake of such loss.

“We’re looking at a much greater area [along the river] than what we currently have. Three hundred hectares or so – it’s like another Hagley Park. The environmental benefits are we’d have some whole ecological connections. We’ll be able to bring in more indigenous vegetation, habitats and native birds, including our river birds. And that’s really important for people in terms of having a sense of place and belonging to New Zealand.

“Christchurch is known as the Garden City. It was originally laid out in a Euro-centric style but there’s been an increase of growing native trees by individuals and council.”

Forest & Bird has signed the AvON charter and Jen is part of the ecology-focused steering group. She says it would be a great opportunity for Forest & Bird members to get involved in some of the hands-on work if the project goes ahead.

CERA is yet to make a firm decision about the land but politicians from the Labour and Green parties have thrown their weight behind the idea.

AvON is hoping a petition with over 18,600 signatures will convince central government to work with Christchurch residents and local authorities to ensure the Avon River red zone becomes a reserve and river park when homeowners have to leave.

The network also hopes a river reserve would become a living memorial to those devastated by the quakes. Amid the rubble, the natural haven would become a place of “comfort and peace”.

Jolene Williams

More information: www.avonotakaronetwork.co.nz or visit the Avon River Park Facebook site