From the Ground Up


Rebuild Christchurch as a Sustainable City

What if you took a 250 year perspective on the development and adaptation of your home city? Our project started by examining how the city has been shaped over the past 150 years. We then took a hard look at the next 100 years, what is not sustainable, and the mechanisms for transition. The project uses research of state-of-the-art knowledge from around the world and across disciplines. The assumptions for development projects are social responsibility, economic viability, and technical feasibility.

We are a group of researchers, students, volunteers and stakeholders from the community, business and council. We are happy to share the results, possibilities and vision as they arise from our ongoing work. Our first important result is that the city does not need to sprawl. Our modelling shows that affordable housing is a development choice, not an impossible dream. Our on-going analysis provides transition road maps for how car dominated cities can be re-developed into diverse, desirable and delightful urban communities that prosperously emerge in a carbon-constrained and oil-constrained future.

Listen to the PodCast about Transition Engineering.

From the Ground Up Phase 1: Transition 

Taking that long-term view, we understand that over the next 100 years the city that we live in will be re-developed. From now on, every investment in property, infrastructure and public facilities will either be right for the future or it could be wrong. Good investments will be in demand and will have growing value.  Bad investments will be costly.  

Project Objectives:

Phase 1 was carried out by a team of scholarship students, experts and volunteers. The aim was to use all of the knowledge from around the world about what makes a great city, and then look specifically and objectively at Christchurch. The two key drivers for the project:

  1. Meet the urgent and immediate housing need for 15,000 people with affordable rentals and homes within the current urban boundary
  2. Design for Transition over the next 100 years with underlying urban form, infrastructure, and relationships between activity systems that support economic and social prosperity without reliance on fossil fuels


This is a very complex problem. The world is going to change quite a bit over the next 100 years. The city will continuously emerge and change. There are examples of great urban design around the world, but there are no examples where an old low-density suburb has been re-developed into a sustainable urban form. The vision exists, but the market doesn't know how to deliver it. The desire exists, but not the leadership. We have to do more than just rebuild buildings. We have to use action research to explore engineering of infrastructure for the post-carbon age, long-term economics, and long-term leadership. We also need to learn how to integrate or weave together the expertise that has been built up over the past century in different disciplines. Academically, we will need to innovate this complex systems analysis capability as well.


From the Ground Up Methodology for Data Analysis and Modelling                                                 Minimum Energy Geospatial Activity Analysis

Prospecting the Future

The From the Ground Up Methodology was applied to the city of Christchurch. The primary driver is for construction of affordable housing and affordable commercial buildings. The first consideration is a solid foundation - stable soils with good drainage. A lower cost build can be achieved on stable soils, higher buildings can reduce unit costs and existing infrastructure can be used. The next consideration is property cost, or the Property Re-Development Potential Index (PRPI). This is calculated from council data by dividing the land value by the total rated value. If the PRPI is close to 1, then the property is ideal for re-development. The current building standards reflect correction from the leaky building architectural mistakes of the 1990's and the lack of insulation required before 1980. Thus, we are looking for an area of the city with old houses that are "past their used-by date" where new construction could provide much greater comfort and health with low energy bills.


Data for building locations: Stable soils shown in grey    Property re-development potential index (PRPI)    Age of homes older than 1960 in light blue

The results of the Phase 1 project are very exciting. We can see how viable electric public transport can serve the city, and how to achieve the urban form that will adapt nicely to rapid decline of oil use and the necessary economic resilience that adaptive capacity will provide. We see how the patterns of residential, commercial, industrial and social land use can be transitioned into this sustainable form, and how it pays for itself in both the short and long term. The local economy grows and diversifies as money is kept in people's pockets and in the city, rather than being paid off-shore for oil, cars and parts, and as even more money is saved on accidents and road maintenance.


 Data for house price layer in the ARC GIS model                                           Concept design for city tram lines city to UC to Hornby and Airport

Prospecting Result:  Riccarton is an ideal location for a grey-field urban re-development project on the scale needed to take the pressure off of building green field sprawl, to drive the re-development of the central city, and to lay the foundation for the large scale urban planning needed for Christchurch as a whole. Why Riccarton?  This area of the city wasn't even badly damaged by the earthquakes. The point of prospecting and using a systematic methodology with multidimensional decision analysis is to discover high quality opportunities that meet your aims and requirements. The results may be a bit of a surprise, but watch the Phase 1 launch (March 2013, Engineers for Social Responsibility Public Seminar) to get the story.

Watch the Lecture (22 March 2013)

62343_Michael_Emil_ Atefa_Susan_Small     711_Sebastiano          

Mechanical Engineering summer scholarship recipients Michael Southon and Emily Ward with Architect Atefeh Vahedi and Dr. Krumdieck.  Sebastiano Bernardoni, Sustainable Urban Designer,  and Dr. Stacy Rendall, Transport Energy Transition

Much of the work on Phase I: Prospecting was volunteer. Some support was provided by a research grant from NIWA - Sustainable Cities. The Engineers for Social Responsibility also provided a grant, and the University of Canterbury provided the summer scholarships for Michael and Emily through the UC sustainability Office. Industry stakeholders also worked with the team to help them understand the property development process and council frameworks for land use planning. Doug Backhouse of Golder Associates and Brendan Chase of Chase Commercial helped with understanding markets and risks. Tony Moore of the Christchurch City Council provided information on the city planning processes. 


From the Ground Up Phase 2: The Opportunity

The Phase 1 results were met with great enthusiasm by the community and by business people frustrated with the development conditions in the central city. The team has grown to include commercial management, urban design and landscape architecture expertise. The team have investigated ways to move forward and explore the opportunities in Grey-field Redevelopment around the Riccarton area. The opportunity for Grey-field Redevelopment is different than for green fields. The opportunity is for the people living in the area and who currently own the property to be the drivers for the neighbourhood extreme make-over. This is a new idea. Our group believes that the need for Grey-field Redevelopment is growing around the world, and that our action research could help to develop this new product for urban transition. Can our research project result in a local home-owner's group becoming successful developers of their new homes and properties?

Watch a short video on Phase 2: Opportunity

Professor Krumdieck led the Phase 2 project to explore the first major opportunity identified in the prospecting phase - development of the Riccarton area near the University of Canterbury. This area represents a key opportunity because of the location near the activity centre for 20,000 people every day - the Uni. The area between the university and the Bush Inn has stable soils, established infrastructure, and access to thousands of jobs, services and activities within walking and cycling distance. This area is also a hub for public transport and is an anchor point for the key Riccarton Ave commercial, retail and cultural corridor of the future.

Phase II Team: Prof. Krumdieck, Dr. Stacy Rendall, Thomas Smith, Vaughan O'Brien, Kaitlin van Tromop

Summer Research Project: A group of graduates, students and volunteers has worked over the summer 2013/14 to explore the opportunity for the first development in the Riccarton area. The area identified as having greatest potential for re-development is directly adjacent to the university, between Ilam and Waimari, and centered on Roundtree St. The total area studied in Phase II is shown on the map below.

             62343_UV Area small 

The opportunity areas for re-development as modelled by fuel price adaptability and residential affordability. The best potential is near the University of Canterbury. 

Phase II Opportunity Zone

The question is - what is possible for a grey-field re-development?  

That question has been asked and answered for a specific place, a particular community, and under current market and cost conditions. The Phase II project generated the base data for the re-development. We need to know what is actually possible and at what price before we begin visioning or designing. We used demographic statistics and models of travel activities. We looked at affordability of rents and ownership for different types of housing products. We analysed large amounts of existing information on models of urban form, housing types, community feel, amenity value and market appeal. We set up models of the cost to build for different parameters like property types, number of units, floor-space per person, economies of scale, heating, electricity, water, sewerage, parking etc.

The Opportunity Zone is roughly 180,000 m2 of land with 160 detached homes, more than half of which are older than 1970 and an even higher percentage would not meet current home insulation standards. Recent sales indicate that the value of the 3 bedroom, 1 bath home on a quarter acre lot in the area would average around $360,000. 

We invited experts from all related fields and businesses and the city council, as well as students and the residents in neighboring areas to provide information, facts and figures that were collected and analysed in order to move forward to the design and development stages. The summer project kick-off was 7 November 2014 with a working bee at the University Staff Club. About 25 people from a wide range of sectors shared their knowledge and experience and set the team up for a great working project over the summer.

Stakeholder Interests

The current population of the opportunity area is 55% students aged 20-24 years. Clearly, this area within walking distance of the university is in high demand for student flats. The current population is estimated from census data at just under 900. The university is a major employer in the city, and an important activity center.

University:  The earthquakes resulted in a sharp reduction in enrollments and severe housing shortage for students. The lack of urban activities (e.g. pubs and bars) is one of the biggest reasons domestic students choose another city to study in. The memories and friendships that students form during their time at the university is very important for the future of the university. The experience of students at universities is often highly correlated to the amenities in the shops and hang-out places in the "college town". The university is committed to becoming an eco-district in its future development and fully supports staff research and participation in the process of rebuilding Christchurch as a sustainable city. The university cannot take on the responsibility to house all of the students, so is looking to the market. 

Students:  Rental of one room in a 3 Bedroom house in Upper Riccarton has increased dramatically from an average of $105 per week (2008-2011) to over $175 today. Students are piling more people into houses and spending less in the shops. They also are finding the cost of transportation to be a burden. The average student flat is cold, damp and unhealthy. 

Residents:   The location is ideal. 70% of the residents would not need a car, just like people living in Wellington central city. The market for warm and healthy apartments that have low energy bills is not being met. However, people do not want to live in lifeless apartment blocks surrounded by parking lots.  Concern over typical developer infill housing densification and the added pressure on parking and traffic it produces, as well as a degradation of the appeal of the area.

Neighbours:  A major issue for residents is parking. Students park on neighbourhood streets rather than pay for parking at the university. Property values are affected by the conversion of family homes to student rental flats. Safety issues due to the traffic and street parking are also a concern. 

City Council: Transportation is the largest expense for the council. Safety and crime vary greatly depending on the design and social demographics of an area. infrastructure and services are already present in the opportunity zone. The council looses rates if people move outside the city urban boundary. Social welfare and future-proofing are council interests.

Owners: There are current property owners and future owners. Concern over typical developer infill housing densification and the added pressure on parking and traffic it produces, as well as a degradation of the appeal of the area. Current owners do not want to be run out of their homes. However, many are open to the idea of being part of a grey-field development, being part of the design team, and getting to choose the new home they will move into in the development. They want to preserve the culture and history of the area, but recognise that the future could be much different. Future owners will want to get good returns if they are land-lords. Owners recognize that there would need to be a cooperative or body corporate that would ensure maintenance was carried out and that the multiple owners could maintain the quality of the area.  

Re-Development Potential

A model was developed to explore the range of development decisions for this location. The model estimates the cost to build, including economies of scale, the rents and property values, but also the amenity values and the quality of the residential accommodation according to national standards.

No Development:

Properties as they are now - low density housing. Residents = 900, Property Value = $365,000, Housing Standard = 25%, Weekly Rent = $175 per room; Amenities = None, Jobs = None, Investment = None, Cost to Build = NA

Infill Densification:

The LURP allows ad-hock conversion of homes to 3-5 town-homes. Assume all older homes converted to high density.   Residents = 3000, Property Values = $365,000, Housing Standard = 60%, Weekly Rent = $175 per room, Amenities = None, more crowding, parking problems, Jobs = None, Investment = $96M,  Cost to Build = $200/m2

American-Style Apartment Complexes:

Blocks of older homes are purchased and replaced with apartment buildings, and with a retirement village. Assume all older homes which form groups of 8-10 are converted.  Residents = 2000, Property Values = $320,000, Housing Standard = 50%, Weekly Rent = $150 per room, Amenities = None, more crowding, parking problems, Jobs = 15, Investment = $140M, Cost to Build = $175/m2

High Street:

Nearly all of the homes are converted to an urban high street. This is street level shopping, dining and services with 3-5 stories of apartments above.  Residents: 5200, Property Values = $240,000, Housing Standard = 100%, Weekly Rent = $140 per room, $400 per year/m2 for retail,  Amenities = 35 shops and premises and a destination location, Vibrancy due to the large population, low car ownership rates, under building parking garage, Jobs = 375, Investment = $340M, Cost to Build = $95/m2

High Street Urban Development

        62343_Town centre    62343_High Street

Many people have experiences of high street areas of cities. Christchurch had its own High Street prior to the earthquakes where one of our staff members lived in an apartment above a bakery. Cuba Street in Wellington is another example. If all of the opportunity zone were built up as a high street there would be 1600 new apartments ranging from studios to 5 bedrooms. Apartment living above a bustling pedestrian street with cafes, restaurants, shops and entertainment is not for everyone. But the market for young adults, couples, empty-nesters, and small families is strong in this area.


From the Ground Up Phase 3: Community Driven Development

The From the Ground Up team have identified the multi-use High Street development for this particular location as a long-term solution for affordable housing, reduced need and expense of private vehicle transport, and high quality, healthy, low energy housing. The high street has multiple benefits, and provides amenities and a destination area for residents of the entire Riccarton/Ilam area.  The hypothesis is that a development in a "grey-field" or currently occupied urban area should be driven by the vision and desires of the people who live there in order to realise all of the economic and social benefits. This phase of the project is aimed at discovering the way to achieve a community driven development.


Phase 3 will use a process called a charrette - a several day working group with the team, architects, builders, residents, neighbours, students and investors. The participation in the FTGU High Street at the Uni Charette will be open to all interested parties. The target date for the charrette will be in May 2014 with the objectives:

  1. Explore the land area, market and economic scenarios to be targeted for the High Street at the Uni
  2. Develop the preliminary design concepts

The outcome of the Phase 3 will be a project plan that could actually be developed - The project plan has feasible transition engineering, infrastructure, transport, materials, and viable economics, logistics, market demand, development time-line and meets the key criteria of the opportunity. The project plan will be developed using the base data, and the collective creativity and experience of the different stakeholders.

The team is applying for funding to support the project through this phase 2. We estimate the cost of the foundation data and charrette process to be $75,000. The outcomes will provide solid and risk-managed development opportunities for developers and numerous businesses. The team are providing work and time for the community benefit, but the level of professional contribution anticipated should be compensated.

Green Field Development - What we must not do

Ex-Urban Sprawl is a long-term threat to the prosperity of the city

There are many things that we could do in rebuilding our city. The one thing that we must not do is decant our residential development out onto the Canterbury Plains. This is a dead-end development plan. The things that make a city more sustainable are much harder to achieve if the fabric of the city is stretched and pulled apart. Affordable transit, walkable neighbourhoods, affordable housing and resilience to oil price are not possible with sprawled development. Ex-urban developments are also at high risk of property devaluation as petrol prices escalate.


Watch and share a short video on the risks of ex-urban development.

Background and News Articles
Dr. Krumdieck has researched the re-development process, and has written some articles about how the emergence of a new city could happen for Christchurch:

The New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities held a Urban Science Workshop with speakers who could provide different perspectives on the project of recovery from the earthquakes. You can listen to Dr. Krumdieck's short presentation HERE.62343_META Risk

Plains FM did an interview with Dr. Krumdieck on the From the Ground Up project, and the risk to Christchurch of ex-urban sprawl. The podcast is available on the Earthwise show page.

Listen to the PodCast

Professor Krumdieck gave an interview on Radio New Zealand National April 12 on the Kim Hill Show discussing the transition to the post-oil world. 

Listen to the Interview


The Minimum Energy Transport Analysis (META) computer model give a measure of the risk to personal transport activities calculated by the number of destinations accessible from each house in a city by walking, bike, public transport, or only by car. The transport risk map shown here indicates houses that have virtually no access to any goods or services, schools or jobs except by car as carrying a high risk - shown in red. Homes located where all activities are within walking distance are indicated as being in a low-risk location - shown in green. 

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