Citizen Architect: John Russell

John Russell, Village of Newtown, Ohio – Planning Commission: 1975-present; Village Council: 1976-1980; Mayor: 1980-1988

Firm and Role: Cole + Russell Architects, co-founder, CEO ndba CR Architects

What is the purpose of the committees that you are involved with?

Planning Commission: meets on a regular basis to act on requests for approval on Zoning Ordinance issues, including required public hearings.

Village Council: meets on a regular basis to conduct official business of the Village Government. I also served on committees that reported to the council as a whole.

Mayor: serves as Chief Executive Officer and chairman of the Council, Head of the Police Department, and Judge of Mayor’s Court.

Why did you choose to get involved? 

The current Mayor asked me to get involved with the Planning Commission and I thought my architectural background would be beneficial in dealing with land use and building issues. When a Council seat became vacant I was asked to fill it and then (to my surprise) I was required to stand for re-election! Also, to my surprise, I won!

Soon I was appointed Vice Mayor and when the sitting Mayor chose to not run for re-election, I entered the race. Again, to my surprise, I won and I was re-elected 4 years later.

How does your experience as an architect contribute?

Contributions to the Planning Commission were obvious as I dealt with Zoning and Land Use issues daily as an architect. Contributions to the Council were not as obvious, but experience in problem solving is always helpful. One direct benefit was my ability to enable the Village to acquire a Comprehensive Plan and up to date Zoning Ordinance. Through my connection to UC I convinced Sam Noe, head of the Planning Department, to take us as a class project to develop our first Comprehensive Plan! That plan allowed us to apply for and receive a grant for redevelopment of the Village Center, as well as develop an updated Zoning Ordinance!

How has serving in this role benefited you as an architect?

In dealing with Zoning, land use and local governments, it gave me a perspective from the “other side.” I also learned how to deal with people in adverse situations and bring situations to a reasonable compromise. As an unexpected benefit I met, on a regular basis other local officials, which would prove to be helpful in my architectural career.

How much time and effort does your role require? 

More than I had bargained for: each month, two Council meetings, two mayor’s courts, one Planning commission and numerous committee meetings plus incessant telephone exposure!

Would you encourage other architects to get involved? 

We all have divergent talents and personalities, but we all have to deal with the environment and the people that occupy our designs. Being involved with your local organizations, whether elected or appointed, always gives you a broader perspective on your community and the people we design for!

Are you a Citizen Architect? Please let us know by emailing

Are you interested in getting more involved with your community? Check out AIA Ohio’s Finding Your Voice advocacy series or come to one of AIA Cincinnati’s Local Advocacy Working Group meetings (second Thursday each month at 8:30 am on Zoom).

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