Christchurch seeks to become the ‘urban play capital’ of the Southern Hemisphere

Urban play: It’s a game, in the city – and not just for children.

Gaming opportunities are emerging overseas as overseas cities embrace the movement known as urban gaming or playable cities.

Montreal in Canada has musical swings at bus stops, the Danish capital Copenhagen has pedestrian trampolines, Bristol in Britain has temporarily turned a street into a waterslide, and Melbourne has a central parklet with games.

Christchurch is now keen to join in the fun.

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Gap Filler – the award-winning agency already known for its playful post-earthquake installations including Dance-O-Mat and events such as Bike Cinemas – is receiving three-year City Council funding to make Christchurch the urban capital of the southern hemisphere. player.

It sounds like an ambitious plan, but Gap Filler’s recently appointed urban play coordinator Kate Finnerty said there are plenty of ideas and people and groups eager to get involved.

The group targets a range of short-lived events, as well as temporary and permanent installations. Games, art, physical fun and interactive installations are part of the brief.

“Once we started talking we realized there was a full gaming movement going on, it’s really exciting. People are passionate about making Christchurch playful,” Finnerty said.

A city center street in Bristol, UK has become a waterslide for a day.

Provided / Stuff

A city center street in Bristol, UK has become a waterslide for a day.

In addition to attracting people to a city center, urban play strengthens bonds between people and improves creativity and physical and mental health, she said.

“It’s about creating the time and the place and the permission to play. It’s spending time doing enjoyable things.

“The game is so wide. It’s not just about things to play with, it’s about connecting with people, it’s about playful experiences and seeing things differently that open your mind to possibilities.

Finnerty said research has shown that in a playful state, the brain is more open to change and better positioned for creative thinking and social engagement.


Pupils from Waimairi School hit the Dance-o-Mat dance floor in Gloucester St to do some moves. (Video first published in July 2015)

“It’s about when we are removed from the stresses of everyday life and feel more grounded and free.

“We are all ready to have a little fun. You can also use the game to investigate some serious issues.

The program already has heavyweight partners on board. They include Christchurch City Council, which will award the program $250,000 over three years. ChristchurchNZ, Canterbury District Health Board, Mental Health Foundation, Matapopore trust, Healthy Families Christchurch and Sport Canterbury are other helpers.

In return, the Urban Play program will offer projects each year ranging from downtown play and storytelling opportunities to high-tech activities such as augmented reality and digital projections.

Existing Gap Filler projects include Dance-o-Mat, pictured here in 2012 but now on Gloucester St.

Don Scott / Stuff

Existing Gap Filler projects include Dance-o-Mat, pictured here in 2012 but now on Gloucester St.

He will also use the game to address social, environmental and urban planning issues.

Lottery funding was also approved, targeting hard-to-reach people and using “playful ways to engage a wider range of people in planning issues”.

Gap Filler director Ryan Reynolds says he wants to understand what has already happened in Christchurch since the earthquakes, including street art, public festivals, the creation of escape rooms and the All Right? wellness campaign.

“As soon as we started using the term ‘urban play’, we attracted all sorts of interests and partners from places you wouldn’t necessarily expect.”

Reynolds says they've drawn all kinds of partners into the Urban Play program.

Stacy Squires / Stuff

Reynolds says they’ve drawn all kinds of partners into the Urban Play program.

Local game development company Cerebral Fix, which has worked with clients such as Disney, is one of the business partners willing to help.

One of the first scheduled events will be Skate the City, a skating and skateboarding festival for girls and young women. It will include sessions on improving skills, designing and building a skatepark and maintaining equipment, and aims to encourage skating for recreation and transportation.

Other ideas include a rickshaw DJ and paddleboarding with musical performances on the River Avon.

Gap Filler will also draw on its international experience. Two urban game experts are partners in the program: Dr Anne Wagner from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Dr Troy Innocent from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

Anna Fawcett of ChristchurchNZ, said the Urban Play scheme would be an attraction for visitors and locals alike.

“This vision aligns well with how we’re positioning the city as a playground for explorers, whether it’s business innovation or destination marketing,” Fawcett said.

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