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The symbol of the Ōtākaro Living Laboratory is the kahikatea, Dacrycarpus dacrydioides, the tallest tree in the forests of Aotearoa. Kahikatea is a dominant species at the margins of land and water, growing tall for hundreds of years. The seed cone of the kahikatea embodies the spirit of experimentation and discovery. 


Kahikatea are being planted throughout the red zone as the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan is implemented. Find out more about the red zone here.

Kahikatea - Dacrycarpus dacrydioides. Image by Steve Attwood

A kaupapa

• a mission shared between Living Laboratory participants to enable us to better face local and global challenges together

• an ongoing willingness to experiment, discover, teach and learn together about new ways of living with a restless environment


The Living Laboratory is based on three pou, or posts or supports:


An ecosystem

• a network of researchers, educational institutions, schools, manawhenua, businesses, professionals and community groups, extending from local to global

• relationships with city entities that have an interest in the river corridor, such as ChristchurchNZ, the Community Waterways Partnership and the Climate Action Campus


A body of knowledge

• assembling and making accessible existing knowledge about evolving environmental, social, cultural and economic change in the river corridor

• building a major longitudinal study of such change into the future, including processes of climate adaptation and biodiversity change


The Ōtākaro-Avon. Image by Heather Parker, University of Washington

Ōtākaro Living Laboratory database word cloud


Image by Australian National University

The Living Laboratory is overseen by an independent trust. The trust has representatives from the public, private and community sectors, including some of the key institutions in the city. It coordinates with other agencies and groups that have an interest in research and education in and around the river corridor. The trust members are:

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Fiona Shanhun

Fiona Shanhun is Chief Scientist at the regional council, te Kaunihera Taiao ki Waitaha | Environment Canterbury and leads their climate change resilience programme. She is focused on developing partnerships and sharing science advice with rūnanga, communities, researchers and decision-makers to help improve environmental outcomes – mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri ā muri ake nei – for us, and our children after us.

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Rob Kerr

Rob Kerr is a Chartered Professional Engineer and project director. He was Development Director for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, where he was responsible for a number of the anchor projects in Christchurch central city, including the Margaret Mary playground. He was also General Manager - Residential Red Zone for Regenerate Christchurch and led the development of the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan.


Cath Carter

Cath Carter is ChristchurchNZ’s General Manager Urban Development, tasked with enabling and delivering urban projects and development activities. She is passionate about the re-emergence of our city and recognises the importance of the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor to Ōtautahi Christchurch’s past and future. Her focus is on delivering on the city’s vision by creating connections, opportunities and partnerships that led to real outcomes of benefit to our community.


David Griffiths

David Griffiths is the Head of Strategic Policy and Resilience at the Christchurch City Council. David has worked within central and local government for over 35 years. This included leading the residential recovery response for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority following the 2010-2011 Christchurch earthquake sequence. David leads a team of climate resilience, strategic policy and asset management advisors to help support Christchurch’s move towards becoming a resilient and carbon neutral city.


Eric Pawson

Eric Pawson is Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Canterbury. He has published widely in environmental history and environmental management, and has a particular interest in community-based research and learning, developed with students in the city since the earthquakes. He did the scoping work on the living laboratory as one of the foundations of the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor Regeneration Plan.


Jamie Shulmeister

Jamie Shulmeister is Professor and Head of School of Earth and Environment/Te Kura Aronukurangi at the University of Canterbury. He is an environmental scientist with interests in long-term climate change and landscape evolution. He is excited by the opportunities that work in the Ōtākaro Avon river corridor provides for improved environmental outcomes for Christchurch and for driving UC involvement in the Living Lab.

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Roslyn Kerr

Roslyn Kerr is Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Environment, Society and Design at Lincoln University. She is also the Convenor of the Lincoln University Living Laboratory ( which is focused on providing opportunities for Lincoln students to engage with partners to explore, test and solve real-world problems relating to the university's land-based sector mission. 

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