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Silicon Beach: Coral Gables Embraces the Interwebs

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The City Beautiful isn't just about historic Mediterranean homes and manicured lawns. Today, Coral Gables is launching a new website that will hopefully shake a few stately columns and bring one of Miami's oldest cities well into the leading edge of citizen journalism in the 21st century.

George Merrick, the city's founding father, would be proud.

Gables Home Page is a community-driven website created by a generous grant of $156,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with matching cash and in-kind funds from the Coral Gables Community Foundation.

The website, which is still in its infancy, hopes to be a one-stop shop for all things Coral Gables, made by the people for the people. Its focus is on hyper-local issues and news, giving residents and business owners an online place to connect and take advantage of social media.

The website also aims to get seniors involved -- a dying breed of citizens who shouldn't miss out on the digital experience.

If a city could have a classy MySpace, it would be Gables Home Page. An uncluttered, neat and elegant user-friendly design welcomes readers with pages featuring news, blog posts, classifieds, community calendar of events, and, the hottest item of all, a "town square" where citizens of the 33134 and other zip codes can discuss issues in a civil and courteous manner.

Content editor Matt Bokor is excited about the project. "If something like this is going to work anywhere, it's Coral Gables. We're a historic community that is very well-defined," he explains.

He's not the only one who's excited. "We've been going to churches, temples, civic and business groups asking for input," says Bokor. "The reactions we've gotten are very positive. People are happy to hear about our insistence on courteous dialogue. They're tired of hateful attitudes."

Gables Home Page has its work cut out in an online social media world where snark gives trolls plenty of fodder, but the idea is noble.

Anonymous posting is discouraged; real photo avatars are encouraged. The website literally wants to put a face to the name of the city, except that it's many faces and voices all in one place.

Citizen journalists will be free to post, though content will be supervised. "After some time, we hope that the community will police itself," admits Bokor.

University of Miami students are also jumping on the neighborhood-friendly wagon. "Right now, we've got several professors handing out assignments to journalism students," says Bokor. "I can't say enough about how enthusiastic and helpful UM students have been since we started this project."

Claudio Luis Vera (@modulist), local geek from Studio Module and Gables Home Page website architect, was thrilled to get involved. "We had a unique opportunity here to build something completely from scratch," he said. "We're going to continue refining the site in the weeks to come."

Gables Home Page is also on Twitter (@gableshomepage) and Facebook. City Beautiful tweetups are in the works.

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