Russ Stephenson | Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County | Indy Week
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Russ Stephenson 

Raleigh City Council (At-Large)

Russ StephensonRuss Stephenson
Occupation: architect
Phone Number: 919-828-3699
Email Address:
Years Lived in Raleigh/Wake: 42

1) Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, Raleigh has struggled with questions of affordable and workforce housing. In June, the city council set a goal of fifty-seven hundred more affordable units over the next decade. With burgeoning growth and rising housing prices, what additional steps should Raleigh take to create more affordable housing?

Last year, Council dedicated a new $6 million annual allocation to triple Raleigh's affordable housing production. This year, I am leading a Council Committee effort to partner with Wake County to study best practices, reduce costs, and increase the production and retention of affordable housing units even more. I have outlined the committee’s efforts to create more affordable housing here:

2) Related to affordable housing (and affordability in general) is viable public transportation. What steps can the city take to improve mass transit throughout the city? County voters approved a transit referendum last fall that will eventually create a bus rapid transit system and commuter rail line. What more should be done?

One remaining key to Raleigh's sustainable success is better mobility options. That’s why I voted for the new Raleigh Union Train Station, the Wake Transit Plan – which will quadruple bus service in Wake County, the Raleigh BikeShare program, expanded sidewalk and greenway construction and the upcoming City Transportation Bond. Together, they will help relieve road congestion while providing more healthy and convenient mobility options for connecting housing with jobs and other daily activities. A related key to Raleigh's sustainable success is to update Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect the new transit-oriented land use patterns envisioned in the recently-adopted Wake Transit Plan.

3.) Given the inflamed racial tensions after the recent events in Charlottesville, what steps should Raleigh take to position itself as a guardian of social justice? How would you characterize city leaders’ relationship with Raleigh’s communities of color, and what should be done to improve that relationship going forward?

As an architect and urban planning professional, I have led efforts for Raleigh to strengthen Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan policies for social equity. I introduced my plan to Council about a year ago. Here is an excerpt: “I believe this represents an important opportunity for Council to begin exploring what other peer cities are doing to take a more systematic, intentional and data-driven approach to incorporating equity into our policies and decisions, especially in ways that promote equity as an economic driver, and help us reach our ... goals for prosperity for all of our citizens.” Ned Barnett of the N&O described my effort here: The concepts of interwoven equity and authentic participation are described in APA’s recent Comprehensive Planning Best Practices document: Here are recent examples of my efforts to implement greater equity and shared prosperity in Raleigh. (This is a tri-fold document – read in page number order.)

4.) Given the recent creation of the community engagement board, what do you believe the role of citizens advisory councils should be? What features and levels of involvement do you want to see incorporated into the new structure?

For more than forty years, the Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs) have been Raleigh’s most important forum for citizens to participate directly in community affairs. City Council must value the service that CACs provide to our community and work to improve their effectiveness, with additional resources to increase citizen participation in all areas, including rezonings. Here are my recent comments to Council:

5) Thinking about the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific changes you will advocate if elected?

In the recent citywide survey of residents, 91% described Raleigh’s quality of life is good-to-excellent. To the extent those feelings reflect the course of Raleigh’s government, I would say things are generally on the right course. That said, there is room for improvement in the way government delivers: social equity and income mobility, authentic citizen participation in government, affordable housing, transit and transportation, and better quality growth management and urban design.

6) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for improvements in the district if you’re elected. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.
1. Growth Management – With Raleigh’s rapid growth, we must put more emphasis on quality growth that does more to protect our environment and the quality of life for our existing residents.
2. Congestion – See answer to Question #2.
3. Affordable Housing – See answer to Question #1

7) What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the city council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?

My background and experience: Thirty-plus years experience in architecture, environmental design, urban planning and historic preservation. Twelve years experience serving all citizens of Raleigh as At-Large City Councilor. Council's leading advocate for comprehensive planning, sustainable growth, environmental stewardship, neighborhood conservation and social equity.

8) Please give an example of an action by the city council in the past year that went wrong or should have been handled differently. Also, what was the city’s biggest accomplishment during that period?

Course correction: Council appointed a Citizen Engagement Task Force without providing sufficient resources to support a transparent citywide process. Council has since undertaken a revised 2+ year process for improved citizen engagement and empowerment described here:
Accomplishment: Tripling affordable housing production – See answer to Question #1

9) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?


10) Now that the city is moving ahead with plans for the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific features or focuses you’d work to see as part of final design?

The City and Dix Conservancy have hired world class park planners Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates to spend the next 2 years analyzing the site, its context, and engaging all stakeholders in conversations about the design of Dix Park. While I am confident that their efforts will reveal specific features of a world class destination park, I have asked that the design express the kinship between park design and the historical work of Dorothea Dix – deeply engaging the restorative potential of nature.


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