Quality of life issues, pay scales, home insulation, festivals, dropout rates and other factors are becoming areas to be considered by Metroplan under Imagine Central Arkansas. Established as a regional transportation planning agency, Metroplan, under the requirements of a $1.4 million sustainable communities regional planning grant, will have to consider other regional issues.

Imagine Central Arkansas, driven by the grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is to help improve economic "competitiveness" through housing, jobs, schooling and transportation.

The grant is implemented through the 25-member Imagine Central Arkansas Partners (ICAP), made up of city and county officials as well as groups and organizations such as AARP, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement at UAMS, Arkansas Department of Health, Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Arkansas, Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, Central Arkansas Transit Authority, Clinton School of Public Service, Hendrix College, Metropolitan Housing Alliance, University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Central Arkansas.

In turn, Imagine Central Arkansas works with the Metroplan Regional Planning Advisory Council.

Transportation planner Casey Covington presented a revised Imagine Central Arkansas vision plan at the June 25 board of directors meeting. While the presentation was not for approval, acceptance of the plan is needed so it would be ready for presentation to the community in meetings to be held in fall, Covington said.

"Imagine Central Arkansas is a community-driven guide to creating a sustainable, healthy and prosperous region that celebrates diversity, regional cooperation, educational excellence, economic vibrancy, and quality choices in housing and transportation," Covington read from the summary.

"This is the vision statement that the regional planning and advisory council saw for Imagine Central Arkansas … where we want to be in the future," Covington said.

The two groups had made a number of changes to the original Imagine Central Arkansas plan, compiling it into six goals of economic growth and vitality, quality corridors and transportation choice, environmental quality and sustainable energy, land development and housing, healthy and safe communities, and funding adequacy.

However, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola called for action to be delayed until the July 23 meeting. "You bring [changes] to us and we haven’t had the chance to review them or take them back and ask some of our folks what they think about these," he remarked.

The grant, which operates for three years, is supposed to help "more fully integrate multiple components of long-range planning for housing, economic development, environment and health issues, along with transportation."

Executive Director Jim McKenzie said the final plan needed to be submitted by the end of the year to meet the requirements of the grant.

Along with the six goals is the Livability Index, "The Livability Index is the measure at which we will measure success," Covington said. To do this the committee developed a set of 47 measures that connect to the goals.

Among the measures are air quality, energy efficiency, urban sprawl, per capita income, entrepreneurship, small business growth, poverty rate, college attainment, school performance, cultural events, voter turnout, community involvement, green spaces and roadways.

Lastly, a Fair Housing and Equity Assessment is required under the grant, Covington said. The Fair Housing Equity Assessment was presented to the Board at the March retreat. The assessment considers the availability of housing in central Arkansas and how Imagine Central Arkansas may affect that, he said.

The assessment would look at the affect of Imagine Central Arkansas on segregated areas and whether there are areas of increasing diversity and/or integration; whether there are racially or ethnically centered areas of poverty; fair access to existing areas of high opportunity; equal benefit of major public investments; and other fair housing issues.

When the assessment is complete and approved by the Metroplan board, it will be opened for public review.