Ōtautahi Urban Play

We plan to convene an initial 3-year programme, from late 2021, to establish Ōtautahi Christchurch as the Southern Hemisphere Capital of Urban Play.

Public bench blowing bubbles

Playing our way to a better city  

Gap Filler is taking a lead, assembling a range of partners to deliver on this aspiration to make Ōtautahi Christchurch more memorable, equitable, sociable and diverse through a playful approach.

We’re building on strong foundations, with Christchurch already renowned for its countless creative interventions in the city over the past decade – including its recent inclusion in TIME Magazine’s Greatest Places of 2021.

We want Ōtautahi to explore more and diverse ways to play, including a range of ‘serious play’ initiatives to help address pressing social and environmental issues. We can make improving the city more accessible, participatory and fun.

We see this programme initially being focused in the central city, comprising a range of short-term events, temporary and permanent installations, and having three separate but related streams or phases.



Reimagining the playground and the notion of urban play for all ages. Integrating small play invitations and sociable interactions throughout the streetscape and city, encountering people as they go about their everyday lives.

    • WHY? – Play in any form is good for people’s health and wellbeing and, especially for adults, shouldn’t only be a formal and/or competitive pursuit done only on weekends. We want to encourage people to experience moments of play every day.
    • WHY? – It’s a point of difference for the city, and will help establish a stronger sense of identity. It can help locals grow connection and feel proud of our place, and drive visitors here with a strong narrative about the city.
    • EXAMPLES: Dance-O-Mat; bus stop swings; musical instruments in the streetscape; public table tennis tables; Luke Jerram’s crowdfunded Park and Slide project (above) that temporarily transformed Park Street in Bristol into a 95-metre water slide open to the public.
Bus Stop Swings
UNHabitat's Block By Block


Where the built environment and systems of the city themselves are being played with. Augmented reality and storytelling; street art; projection mapping; site-specific performances in buildings, on public transport, under bridges, etc. Play can also be a tool for more inclusive planning processes, where citizens are able to participate in Council planning and budgeting processes in more interesting and active ways than just making submissions.

    • WHY? – Experiencing the city in different ways is prerequisite to being able to imagine change, which is especially important given the radical new advances that climate change will necessitate. We want people to be open to, and proactive in, the city transforming to meet new challenges and opportunities.
    • WHY? – It’s democratising when the often opaque systems of government are made more accessible, inclusive and fun. In the 2019 Canterbury Wellbeing Survey, only 24% of people in Christchurch City felt satisfied with opportunities the public has to influence what government agencies do.
    • EXAMPLES: SALT District mural; Wayfinder Live; UNHabitat’s Block by Block.


Playful approaches to addressing and raising awareness of social and environmental issues. Using gamification to make real-world problem solving more fun and differently rewarding. Smart city technology can be used to monitor impacts in real time.

    • WHY? – We want to make the act of reimagining the world more joyful, tangible and infectious. Solving our urban problems shouldn’t only be the role of government agencies or those with careers in social or environmental services. Everyone should be able to play a part.
    • WHY? – We especially want to encourage and foster cross-sector partnerships and collaboration between not-for-profits, government agencies and local businesses to develop truly local solutions to local problems.
    • EXAMPLES: Ngā Pirihimanaaki o Aotearoa NZ Polite Force; Drinkable Rivers light sculpture.


Floating LED sculpture tracks New York water quality.


  • Matapopore Charitable Trust, responsible for ensuring Ngāi Tūāhuriri / Ngāi Tahu values, aspirations and narratives are realised within the city
  • Community and Public Health, a division of the CDHB providing public health services in the region
  • Smart Cities Christchurch, a Council data-capture and -sharing team exploring new technology and approaches to help make our city a smarter, safer place in which we live, work and play
  • ChristchurchNZ, the city’s sustainable economic development and city profile agency
  • InCommon, a campaign that encourages people to reach out across cultures and faiths to make Canterbury a place where everyone feels they belong
  • Dr Anne Wagner, world expert on urban play, University of Copenhagen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Section for Landscape Architecture and Planning
  • Mental Health Foundation, a charity working towards creating a society where all people enjoy positive mental health & wellbeing
  • CerebralFix Limited, Christchurch-based digital entertainment company, specialising in video games and theme park attractions
  • Sport Canterbury, regional charity established to promote sport to provide people of all ages with a sense of community and connection
  • Dr Troy Innocent, RMIT Urban Play Lab Founder, School of Design, College of Design and Social Context
  • Healthy Families Christchurch, part of a nationwide central government programme to improve people’s health where they live, work and play
  • Watch This Space, not-for-profit to help share and celebrate Christchurch’s street art