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Naomi Buck is a Toronto-based freelance writer who lived for many years in Berlin. She has written for the Globe and Mail, The Walrus, Toronto Life, and Spiegel Online, and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award.

Concrete jungle

Mixing philanthropy and public spaces together

There is very little to love about Toronto's Gardiner Expressway. The six-lane highway that runs 18 kilometres along the shore of Lake Ontario, feeding some 300,000 vehicles into the downtown core every day, is a relic of car-centric postwar urban planning and a symbol of the kind of infrastructural rot that plagues municipalities across Canada.

But a couple of well-endowed Torontonians have decided to change that. Last fall, Judy and Wilmot Matthews announced they were donating $25 million to convert the space under the elevated portion of the Gardiner – currently littered with syringes and abandoned shopping carts – into a cutting-edge urban park. In so doing, the couple has shifted the conversation: for years, city council had bickered over whether to rebuild, bury or demolish the concrete beast; now it's going to be tamed and turned into an attraction.

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Bürger power

A nascent movement in Berlin wants to transform the municipal grid into a greener citizen-led co-op.

When I moved to Berlin as a graduate student in the fall of 1998, there was an unfamiliar smell and thickness to the city air. I soon realized why. Every few days, my East Berlin flatmates would traipse down to the cellar of our apartment building and return with a crate of charcoal to feed into the tiled stove that was our apartment's sole heat source.

Idealism also hung thickly in the air. When we weren't consuming culture, coffee or beer, we were at the demonstrations that are popular sport in Berlin, joining hundreds of thousands to protest against the far right or the Iraq war or to honour the life of Rosa Luxemburg.

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Meddling billionaires

Their intentions are good, but when the super rich decide to back a cause, ego can sometimes undermine the hard work of NGOs.

When she was 15 years old, Australian school girl Grace Forrest took a trip to Nepal, where she visited an orphanage for children who had been rescued from the slave trade. It was a sobering experience, even more so when she returned to the orphanage two years later to discover that those same children had vanished back into the murky underworld without a trace.

Forrest was appalled and decided that she “really wanted to do something,” as she would later tell the Sydney Morning Herald. And as the daughter of billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest, she was in a uniquely privileged position to do just that.

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Israel’s fountain of youth

An entrepreneurial shift among Israeli youth is helping to create a green oasis in a country worried about dependence on oil.

EILAT, ISRAEL – Sagi Giat and Michael Harel are sitting on poolside chaise longues, gushing about the low-friction motor they've just designed. At 18, one might expect them to be taking more of an interest in the bikini-clad, cocktail-sipping tourists basking in the winter sun next to them, or the windsurfers skimming across the Gulf of Aqaba in the distance. But no, it's all about magnetically suspended ball bearings.

Although they seem like old friends, Giat and Harel have in fact just met as fellow participants in an international youth competition that invites high school students to Israel's southernmost city to work on solutions to environmental problems. The Sustainergy competition, now in its third year, is part of a broader initiative to turn southern Israel into a hub of green technology.

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Organic beer is greener beer

Wine and beer drinkers have never had more variety when it comes to products boasting lower environmental impacts.

Sustainable, local, organic – when it comes to food and drink, these monikers sell. The explosion of farmers markets, local food movements and the organic retail sector in North America constitute an onward and upward trend.

Wine and beer are no exception. Both appeal to consumer appetites for local and authentic. In Canada, craft beer, made on a small scale and with natural local ingredients, is the fastest growing segment of the beer market and, as Canada's relatively young wine industry extends its regional reach, a small but growing number of wineries are challenging themselves to produce organically.

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