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Arana Hankin, after ESD: "I was looking for ways to do development in a new, progressive way" (which means AY wasn't?)

So, Arana Hankin, former Director, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, has left for the prestigious mid-career Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), a place where "accomplished practitioners" can recharge "in the middle of promising careers shaping the built and natural environment."

A Loeb Video Profile: Arana Hankin posted 12/4/13 provides some insight into her work and path. It barely mentions her Atlantic Yards work, though it leaves hints she wasn't satisfied in her work. Could that have been because she had to kowtow to developer Forest City Ratner?

The summary:
Arana Hankin viewed her anthropology background as a vehicle for activism and entered politics poised to make a difference. Recruited by David Patterson [sic] to deliver constituent services, she later became manager of several key projects for the Empire State Development Agency. It was Hankin who shepherded the public process of the Atlantic Yards/Barclay Center project, but she began to feel that her work in government was not allowing her to have the impact she wanted. Enter the Loeb Fellowship opportunity and a chance to retool.
The video: Arana Hankin, Community Economic Development Specialist



Wanting to make a difference

"I entered into politics because I really felt like it was a forum and a vehicle to make a real substantive difference in the world," Hankin says, leading off, "and working in Harlem, on 125th Street, doing constituent work, I was making a real, substantive difference in individual lives."

Hankin was not only Director for the Atlantic Yards Project for ESD, but also President of the Queens West Development Corporation and Project Manager for Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion. Which means she was stretched rather thin.

"My background was in anthropology and archeology," she says. "My job out of college was working on the skeletal remains for the African Burial Ground project.... the largest colonial cemetery ever excavated in the United States. Through that process, I met [state Sen.] David Paterson... who was one of the first officials to advocate for the preservation of the site."

Hankin joined Paterson's office, and did constituent work in Harlem as well as work with cultural organizations. "I view myself as an activist, and I entered into politics because I thought it would be a forum to be able to make a difference," she says. "Anthropology, for me, was a vehicle for activism. Working on the African Burial Ground project, I was actually able to re-write history and share the historiographies of a population that had been quieted."

What did she do?

Then, whether it was Hankin's choice or simply the constraints of brief profile, there's no discussion of how she came to work for Paterson when he became governor, or how he placed her in ESD, or what she did while there.

"I was looking for ways to do development in a new, progressive way, and I started to feel as though working in government was not allowing me to do so, so I was certainly for searching for something better," she says.

Wait--hasn't Atlantic Yards been billed as "development in a new, progressive way?"

Ready to move on

"And I was to move on," Hankin continues. "So the Loeb opportunity actually I think came at the exact right moment, where I needed to take time away from the hustle and bustle of working in New York City, in the political circle. To try to figure out the best way to really make an impact through real estate devleopment.

Y'know, I've been at the GSD now for just about three weeks, and I feel like I've gained so much. I fell very lucky to be here... we get to really explore a lot of different things... I've learned quite a bit from specifically an urban planning theory course that I'm taking, in understanding better the dynamic I experienced first hand, in New York, working in politics."

On the job

Hankin was regarded by many less as an arbiter than an implementer of the developer's plans. For example, at a 2/7/13 meeting of the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life Committee, Hankin said, "Forest City Ratner has been working diligently with their sound engineer to improve the structure so sound doesn't escape. It's a very complex process."

At a 5/7/13 meeting, after Forest City agreed to pay a $3200 fine for noise violations, resident Peter Krashes asked Forest City if they could write contract language with concert acts stipulating sound limits.

“The update I gave is pretty much the best I update can give,” executive Cotton responded. “It's certainly at the top of our attention, and certainly something that we do not want to happen again. so we have our eyes and ears on it.”

Is there a timetable, Krashes asked.

“They're working diligently to solve the problem,” Hankin ultimately responded, shutting down the issue.

At that same meeting, Hankin said she couldn’t predict when the Scope for a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) --which was to be revised based on comments at a February public hearing--would be issued but hoped for the “near future... We're moving diligently an expeditiously to finalize the SEIS as quickly as possible.”

There's still no Final Scope, nor a Draft SEIS. It's inexcusable; the only plausible explanation is the state has been waiting for Forest City Ratner's business deal with the Greenland Group to clear.

Was Hankin frustrated by political decisions above her head? If so, she certainly didn't act that way. Or was she at peace with carrying Forest City Ratner's water?

The rat complaints

By the way, the video, as shown in the screenshot at right, contains a photo of Hankin at a June 2011 meeting on rats.

The photo depicts Hankin present and willing to engage with the community.

As it happens, at that meeting, Hankin also dismayed several attendees by claiming ESD was unaware of the rat problem because it had not received complaints directly--though complaints had been filed regularly via 311 and on the Atlantic Yards Watch website.

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