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Burke Goes Digital

Resident starts community Web site.

Christine Edwards considers Burke a great place to live. The five-year resident and Realtor by trade enjoys the atmosphere of the area, whether walking the dogs in Burke Lake Park or dining at Aladdin's Eatery.

That is why "a great place to live" is now the tagline for iloveburke.com, a community Web site that went live Thursday, Dec. 15. Iloveburke.com is Edwards' own version of the community hub where Burke residents and businesses can advertise, share news and pictures, or find anything from baby-sitters to contractors.

"I really enjoy living here in Burke," said Edwards. "Traffic isn't as bad for some reason. It’s not a place people use as a cut-through … it has a small-town feel, right in the middle of Fairfax County."

Friend and former coworker Ashley O'Brien agreed. "It's much more laid-back than driving around Old Town Fairfax or near the highway or whatever," she said.

Edwards chose the Internet because she wanted to create a central meeting place for people like her, who are busy but want to connect.

"It's a way of supporting my community and its businesses," said Edwards. After some online research, she contacted a neighborhood Web site host, My Online Neighborhood, Inc., and used it to start her own Burke version.

"It's a really cool Web site," Edwards said. She has begun to put up signs throughout the area advertising the Web address and hopes to get local merchants and restaurants involved in promotions and coupons.

THE HOME PAGE of the Burke Web site shows a list of community news and events, while links lead to neighborhood discussions, a community calendar, merchant listings, classifieds, and a real estate section. Viewers will be able to pick up free iloveburke.com bumper stickers and restaurant coupons, and will be able to participate in photo and essay contests, she said. Edwards hopes to work with local schools to sponsor essay contests as well.

"I hope to help out the community so that there is one central place people can go to know what’s going on in Burke as well as to be able to look at a calendar," she said.

Neighborhood Web sites provide specific services to the community, said Jeff Nolan, vice chair of the Braddock District Council. "It's useful to find out things like, 'Oh, who are those people who live two doors down from us?" said Nolan.

Bonniebrae.net, the Web site for the Bonnie Brae neighborhood where Nolan lives, serves as an introduction to the community, he said.

'"Our Web site is primarily for people looking to move into the neighborhood," said Nolan. "That's our tack." On the Bonnie Brae site, residents interested in various clubs or boards can find relevant information, a welcome kit with information from the Braddock District Supervisor's Office, as well as listings for annual community events.

Many local homeowners' or citizen associations boast Web sites like Bonnie Brae's, said Jeannie Winslow, administration and communication director of the Burke Centre Conservancy. Edwards' Web site will be the first to encompass the entire Burke community.

"I think most communities are heading that route, if they don't have something in place now," she said. "It's a very nice tool to have, for any association, really."

"These sites have really been a way to bring people closer together," said Kevin Downs, who works in the marketing department of My Online Neighborhood. The concept began in Orlando, Fla., he said, when members of various neighborhoods in the city of over 185,000 wanted to have their own way to represent their community. Now, My Online Neighborhood hosts 1,200 sites throughout the country, he said.

"If I'm talking to you and you ask me where I live, I would say, 'Orlando,' but if I'm in Florida I would give the name of a specific community: Winter Park, College Park, downtown," said Downs. "Each has its own elements to them but what’s going on there is usually overlooked by the local media."

Although the sites are usually started by someone like Edwards, the idea is for the community to take ownership, said Downs.

"It’s a place for all the community to be able to share information and help each other," he said. "Neighbors can talk about things that affect them and talk amongst themselves."

Downs described a single parent whose son wanted to be in Boy Scouts, but who did not have enough money to pay for the uniform. She posted a question on her neighborhood Web site asking where she could purchase a used uniform, said Downs, and fellow residents sent her uniform donations.

"There are so many stories of how a neighbor helped another through the site," he said.

Edwards hopes that through iloveburke.com, neighbors will be able to communicate in the same way.

"Hopefully, it will be a good place for people to go to find out everything there is to know about Burke," she said.