The idea

The Transportation Group NZ, a technical interest of Engineering New Zealand, were holding the annual Group Conference in Ōtautahi Christchurch from the 11–13 March 2020. One of the topics being discussed at the Conference was how good street design can make help cities great places to live, work and play.

Transportation Group NZ website(external link)

In 2019, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency released the Innovating Streets Programme that encourages councils to deliver:

  • temporary physical changes to streets
  • improvements that test a permanent fix and prototype a street design
  • activations that help communities reimagine their streets

The Conference Committee, supported by the wider Transportation Group in addition to the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects and Fulton Hogan, tested an activation in Christchurch the weekend prior to the Conference to be able to engage within the conversations around the Innovating Streets programme.

The Transportation Group generally hold events for their members and other collaborating groups. This event was focused on the community as outlined by the Group Chair in a short interview on the day.

The plan

The activation involved closing Colombo Street in the central city from Lichfield Street to Hereford Street on Sunday, 8 March 2020 to have an ‘open play street’ and allow the community and residents to re-imagine how this section of street, and streets of a similar nature, could be if closed to vehicular traffic.

Map showing location of street part along Colombo Street

Project area and event layout (Emily Cambridge, BECA).

The section of street is a local street under the District Plan road hierarchy and the proposal did not affect any access to the major off-street car parks on Lichfield Street and Hereford Street, with car drivers being able to use the one-way distributor streets to access these car parks.

The event also met many of the Council’s objectives and Community Outcomes to:

  • Activate central city towards late summertime and attract residents and visitors to central Christchurch (Central City Action Plan, 2018).
  • Highlight that is it is a great place for people, business and investment, and that the city has a reputation for innovation and creativity.
  • Show that we have safe and healthy communities by ensuring that central city is safe, healthy and welcoming.
  • Demonstrate how we can transition to being a low-carbon city.
  • Advocate for better transport choices by prioritising journeys being taken on foot.

The event organising team had a very small budget to run the event. The team sought sponsorship from Fulton Hogan to cover the traffic management requirements and engaged with local organisations and businesses to participate on the day including Healthy Families Christchurch/Sport Canterbury, Lululemon with OStudio, Elements Programme, Pulzar FM, Levings Dance company and The Compound Studio. Other support came from Anne Heins (CCC) and the Canterbury District Health Board running the smoothie Bikes, Beca who provided the facilities and space to enable set up and pack down, and from Hoyts Cinema at EntX providing cinema tickets for winners of the slow bikes race.

A student videographer from Yoobee College came along to capture the whole event. The result was a real community effort that was well received by those who attended.

Toddler playing with giant Connect Four game.

Play time on a major retail street. Photo credit: Gemma Dioni, ViaStrada.

Key challenges and issues

The first key challenge identified was that the team had to promptly lodge a traffic management plan (TMP) application as there was a 60-day timeframe for approval. After securing a sponsor to provide traffic management on the day, the company also lodged the plan on our behalf. Christchurch Transport Operations Centre (CTOC) were extremely helpful in guiding the team through the process. One early instruction was to liaise with Emergency Services. The tourist tram route passes through the closed-off area so the operator was another stakeholder to consider.

Our initial idea of holding a ‘street party’ morphed into an Open Play Street following discussions with Police. They raised a concern about a large public event being held in Central City so close to the anniversary of the March 2019 Terror Attack. Changing the theme from a party to a play street altered expectations and better aligned with what the team were trying to deliver. The Police requested that additional solid barriers were incorporated at the ends of the street to protect people from errant vehicles, and that a private security firm were engaged to help out on the day as Police resources were already allocated to other large events being held on the same weekend.

View of the slow bike race from the overbridge during the event. Photo credit: Jeanette Ward, Abley.

Understanding the Council’s process for applying for an event permit and collating all the information required with the application, and again within the timeframe of the process, was another challenge. The Council’s event team were helpful in guiding us through this process. Working through the application, it was clear that there were options for reducing risks and thus minimising extra work for the team. For example, we did not require fencing to close off the area, we would not use marquees or stages, and we would not use inflatable devices/bouncy castles or mechanical amusement devices, which require additional inputs or permits and approvals from Worksafe. The team also decided that there would be no food or drink providers invited into the space given the number of surrounding outlets, but it also reduced the burden on the team for checking with food safety practices and implementing waste management plans.

The two bigger pieces of work included the Health and Safety Plan and the Public Liability Insurance. Engineering New Zealand, the Transportation Group’s parent organisation, were able to support the event with the Public Liability Insurance. The Health and Safety Plan initially drafted by the team was superseded by a Health and Safety Management Plan and Security Risk Management plan provided by the Security team that were engaged to help on the day at a cost to the Transportation Group. Our event permit was issued on Friday, 7 March 2020 (two days before the event).

Slow bike race winners standing at the finish line.

Slow bike race winners. Photo credit: Gemma Dioni, ViaStrada.

A requirement of both the traffic management plan process and the event permit process was the need to consult with directly-affected parties. There was also one access to a basement car park that we would need to discuss with the building owner. The team created a consultation log to keep a record of all parties that were contacted and engaged with. This later became useful when the team had to present at the Road Closure Sub-Committee meeting for the approval to close the road.

People sitting on artificial turf in the middle of the street playing games.

Play time on Colombo Street. Photo credit: Gemma Dioni, ViaStrada.

To begin with we contacted the Central City Business Association (CCBA) Manager, and we were able to advertise the event through the CCBA newsletter. This generated some positive and negative feedback. Whilst support was received from many organisations and businesses in the Central City, some of whom wanted to be involved in the event, there were some concerns raised by building owners and managers about the effects on access, parking, trade and damage to heritage windows.

To address or help mitigate some of these concerns the team decided to:

  • Reduce the length of time for the road closure so that there were some hours of usual operation for the street during trading hours.
  • Pay for parking permits so that users of the basement car park could park elsewhere on that day (an alternative car park was opposite the building, accessed from another street) as vehicles were not allowed through the road closure.

The organising team attended the Council’s Road Closure sub-committee on Friday, 28 February and received approval with some conditions.

That the Road Closure Subcommittee:

  1. Receive the information in the report.
  2. Authorise the approval of road closures for the Colombo Street Party event, proposed to be deployed from 10am to 2pm Sunday, 8 March 2020.
  3. Request the applicant provide evidence of acceptable alternative car parking arrangements for tenants in the ANZ Centre and communication with the operator of the Tram.

The team were very satisfied with the outcome and addressed the tram issue the same day.

Success and learning

The event was a success and there were many lessons to be learnt from the experience:

  • Form a small core organising committee (for this event there were three people) as decisions need to be made quickly.
  • Motivate and encourage each other to get over the hurdles along the way.
  • Have a clear objective and expectations for your event.
  • Have a clear plan and programme and ask for help from the authorities if it is not clear or you are unsure.
  • Engage with TMP approvers early to ensure the correct process if followed and that you meet the dates for advertising of the event and dates.
  • Confirm with the TMP approvers any additional costs such as advertising and application processing
  • Engage early with emergency services to understand their requirements and concerns.
  • Have a few arranged feature events/activities that are scheduled through the day to keep people interested and encourage people to stay longer. A range of featured activities ensures a wider target audience. For this event we had yoga, slow bike races, hula hoop comps and dance performances.
  • Music is key for increasing vibrancy and activation. Music really brought the street to life on the day, in the case provided by radio station Pulzer FM.
  • Have a team of super helpful volunteers to assist with set-up, pack down and during the event.
  • Have a range of activities so there is something for everyone. The activities do not have to be elaborate and expensive. Jenga blocks, hula hoops, chalk, bean bags and Lego were all very well received.

    Hopscotch game drawn on the street and people playing.
    Rainbow parachute game

    Simple play was enjoyable for adults and children. Photo credit: Gemma Dioni, ViaStrada.

  • Move activities around during the event if there are quiet or inactivated areas.
  • Liaise with traffic management provider throughout, as some inconsistencies in signage appeared on the day.
  • Engage with as many people as possible including both businesses and organisations and keep a record in a consultation log. This helps with demonstrating that you have consulted, and this can be provided to committees or Council teams that approve permits. Create and maintain a consultation/engagement log.
  • If dealing with building managers, also engage with tenants. They are not always on the same page and some tenants had commented that they would have been keen to be involved further if they had known about the event.
  • Provide extra cycle parking for the event.

    Bike parks

    Extra demands for cycle parking. Photo credit: Gemma Dioni, ViaStrada.

  • Prepare a marketing plan, so that when all approvals are obtained you can quickly roll out the information. Include a media release in the plan and ask all the supporting groups to share on social media channels (providing a Facebook event page for the activity will help with this).
  • Engage with people on social media leading up the event to create a sense of excitement.
Event flyer advertising Christchurch Open Play Street

Event flyer.

People setting up the open street play activities in Colombo Street.

Happy volunteers setting up the event. Photo credit: Gemma Dioni, ViaStrada.