Russ Stephenson's roots have grown deep in Raleigh through four generations. An Army son, he spent his childhood between both coasts of the United States and Europe, but returned to those roots in 1975 to study Architecture and Environmental Design at North Carolina State University. It was at NC State that he met his future wife and lifelong best friend, Ellen Longino. Soon their son Jasper came along, and Russ and Ellen settled their young family on Oberlin Road in Russ’s great aunt Isabelle Bowen Henderson’s historic house, which also became Russ’ place of business.
Over the years, Russ has managed multimillion dollar architecture and environmental design projects in the Triangle and Sea Island, Georgia. His planning work extends from Virginia to Florida, including three North Carolina projects that earned statewide planning awards. Russ’s current practice focuses on historic preservation and urban design consulting. As his words below show, this work feeds his passion and love for Raleigh:
“Raleigh citizens rightly cherish our city's cultural heritage. From our stately Capital and Capital Square, the gritty industrial authenticity of our Warehouse District, to the leafy charm of Historic Oakwood, or the proud African American heritage of the Prince Hall District neighborhood, these places tell uniquely American stories about our industriousness, our hopes and fears, our will to overcome adversity, and our determination to embrace change. To preserve them is to celebrate our heritage, our future, and the stories that give meaning to life in this special place called Raleigh.”
Russ has always been active in the community. Before he was elected to the Raleigh City Council in 2005, he served on the Board at Raleigh Preschool, the PTA Board in the public schools, and as guest lecturer at NC State. Russ was an election official for the Wake County Board of Elections, contributed to several Raleigh Parks planning projects, and served on the Board of the University Park Homeowners Association. He speaks of how his experience in community volunteerism has informed his work as a representative of Raleigh citizens in these words:
“Volunteering with others taught me that everyone has something good and useful to contribute as part of a caring community. People shine when their voices and efforts are appreciated. In large part, Raleigh's identity as a great place to live rests on these volunteers paying it forward in our schools, parks, churches, neighborhoods and other groups. That is why I have always been a strong advocate for citizen engagement in building the identity our city. The wisdom that comes out of that civic work and participation improves our lives and strengthens our shared bonds of caring and responsibility for Raleigh's future and prosperity.”
Russ has demonstrated his experience and engagement over his past decade on City Council, and his passion for the job is as strong as the day he started. Luckily for Raleigh, Russ shared his expertise in design and planning to provide unique, professional insight into the complex challenges and opportunities we face as our city continues to grow. His engagement in shaping the 2030 Raleigh Comprehensive Plan and adapting its new Unified Development Ordinance has been invaluable, and his active participation in projects such as the downtown revitalization have made Raleigh a nationally ranked place for career and business, to find a job, to raise a family, to start a company, and to retire.
These are exciting times in Raleigh. From finalizing the Dix Park Deal and the groundbreaking for Raleigh Union Station to improvements in affordable housing and transit options, Russ continues to play a vital role in placing Raleigh at the top of national rankings. Getting to the top required doing many things right, including listening closely to citizens and making solid investments that provide a high quality of life at an affordable cost. Staying there demands finding thoughtful solutions for quality growth that protects our neighborhoods. Russ notes:
“Raleigh is a beautiful city with a great history and a great future. I have had the opportunity to drink from the well dug by others and to pay it forward with my own contributions - big and small - to the life and health of my fellow citizens. I ‘m excited to build on our accomplishments together as we shape Raleigh for coming generations through diversity, inclusivity, innovation, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and caring. As we go forward we must make sure we are promoting high quality growth that also protects neighborhoods. Accomplishing both of these goals is the difference between growing a big city and growing a GREAT city."