Imagine Central Arkansas, Metroplan’s newest effort to draw area residents into discussion of regional development, was unveiled at the Aug. 29 board of directors meeting.

For more than a year, planners will be using Imagine Central Arkansas to collect information from the general public that will be used to develop a new transportation plan by the end of 2013.

Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie said Imagine Central Arkansas is also the newest program making use of the growing social media environment.

Metroplan is a voluntary association of local governments and is the designated metropolitan planning organization for central Arkansas. Metroplan develops long-range and short-range transportation plans. No federal transportation funds can be for a project unless it is on the long-range and short-range transportation plans.

Urban Planner Casey Covington, who is coordinating the Imagine Central Arkansas, said the program expands the policy of cultivating public involvement in long range planning.

Until recently, most public involvement was limited to public meetings, Covington said. However, social media opens the way to greater, more effective involvement by citizens; involvement that will make long range planning more effective, he said.

The program will include mobile workshops, public workshops, social media and a website to draw responses from as many people as possible, Covington said.

Using the website and social media such as Facebook, planners will be hearing from participants without the restriction of schedules.

Imagine Central Arkansas is to listen to what residents say about the region. The likes and dislikes, and desired changes people wish to see.

The program also creates awareness about how to become involved in the long range planning process; collects feedback; and, finally, uses that information to determine the priority of regional issues.

Information will be collected through "listening," includes ideas for the next 30 years; treasured places to be preserved and promoted, and other information to develop a regional vision.

The main "kickoff" event will be 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Sept. 19, at the River Market Pavilion, downtown.

Other events will be "hometown visits" to Sherwood Fest, Sept. 22; Simon Park, Conway, Sept. 25; UALR, Sept. 26; Benton, Sept. 27; Cabot Veterans Park Community Center, Sept. 28; Park Plaza, Sept. 29; Bryant Fall Fest, Oct. 6; CabotFest, Oct. 13.

More information about Imagine Central Arkansas can be found online at www.imaginecentralarkansas.org or on Facebook.

In other matters, in his director’s report, McKenzie warned the board of directors that the draft Metroplan 2013 Budget could include a request to increase the annual dues. The proposed budget is to be presented at the Sept. 26 meeting.

The Metroplan staff is to meet with the Executive Committee about the possible increase; the last increase was in 2002, McKenzie said.

The board of directors also approved the creation of the position of Outreach and Public Information Coordinator. McKenzie noted that the new position is the first staff addition in nearly 20 years.

However, the past few years have seen a great increase in public relations outreach that, combined with social media, has created a need for constant, real time attention by the staff, he said.

Until now, Metroplan’s public relations needs have been effectively met through a public relations firm, McKenzie said. But with the addition of Imagine Central Arkansas, the HUD Sustainability grant and increasing requests for technical assistance has created the need for an Outreach Coordinator, who can manage public involvement and social media responsibilities, McKenzie said.

This would bring the work back "in house," McKenzie said.

Anticipated annual salary for the position is $50,000.