Palm Beach County getting ‘digital public square’

By Howard Goodman

February 10,

Nonprofit groups in Palm Beach County are combining to create an Internet meeting place meant to spotlight social problems and get people talking about them.

The Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties said Monday it is developing a “digital public square.”

Basically, that’s a Web site where local groups will post news and information on the environment, health, children’s services and other subjects. Interactive gizmos will allow readers to speak up on issues.

It’s an effort to “build bridges” in a sprawling county with a diverse and “disconnected” array of social groups, said Leslie Lilly, Community Foundation president and CEO.

“You have high rates of poverty and high rates of wealth,” Lilly said. “You have many communities that are communities unto themselves. You have the seasonal migration that takes place, a huge population of newcomers who are culturally diverse, who come from many different places.

“It’s a place of stark contrasts.”

The hope is to get citizens talking to one another.

One example of the subject matter: Affordable housing — a hot topic as more people seek information to help them face the threat of foreclosure, Lilly said.

“We’d present a discussion,” she said, “and a constellation of resources where they can learn a bit more, and then they’ll be able to weigh in. So you’ll get a sense, based on the readership, that this is what people are concerned about.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which invests in journalism causes, has donated nearly $1 million toward the effort, the Community Foundation said.

The “digital public square” has no name or Web address yet. Developers have been working on it for several months, and it should be ready for launch this spring, Lilly said.

Much of the site’s content will come from a dozen local organizations, such as 1000 Friends of Florida, which said it will post news on “smart growth and sustainability,” and the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, which tracks statistics tied to child poverty, health and education.