Egyptian bas-relief of Lotus and Papyrus, signifying the unification of upper and lower Nile watershed.

Firm Profile

News & Media

Current Projects

South Park Green Space Visioning

East Ballard Greenstreet

South Park Greenstreets

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Communication and Project Assistance

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) historical and cultural context white papers

Past Projects

Rain Garden Care Guide

RainWise Outreach

South Orcas Greenstreet





Urban Systems Design

Firm Profile

The firm is committed to strong written, verbal, visual, and technical communication skills to reach out to diverse populations and convey information in compelling ways. Staff have proven skills fostering relationships with government, business, and neighborhoods, to increase communication and positive outcomes on complex projects and initiatives.

Urban Systems Design seeks out innovative project teammates from professional consultants and technical experts to provide the highest level of expertise to carry clients’ visions forward into implementation. Staff is highly skilled at coordinating work done by professional designers, engineers, language translators, other contractors and stakeholders within project scope and budget.

Current Projects

South Park Green Space Vision Plan

Through a contract award from Seattle Parks Foundation, Urban Systems Design has been hired as a subconsultant to Barker Landscape Architecture to provide project design and public engagement services for the South Park Green Space Vision Plan.

The South Park Green Space Vision Plan will be used by community groups, civic leaders, agencies and Seattle Parks Foundation to guide park, trail and green space actions and investments in the community over the next five years and beyond. It is a partnership between Seattle Parks Foundation and South Park Area Redevelopment Committee, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition members and other community leaders. Active community participation will be sought through Spring 2014 to create a vision plan for a network of connected green spaces and recreation opportunities in South Park. Stay tuned!

A pubic workshop to identify priority sites will be held on Tuesday, January 28th from 5-8:30pm at the South Park Neighborhood Center (8201 10th Ave South)

Connect with our Facebook page, "South Park Green Space Vision Plan" for updates, photos, and upcoming events.

East Ballard Greenstreet

Through funding from The Russell Family Foundation to Antioch University Seattle, Cari Simson will be working as Research Faculty through June 2014 to implement a voluntary roadside rain garden project to improve water quality in the East Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA. The project will work with Seattle Department of Transportation's Street Use staff to refine the permit process for voluntary roadside rain gardens, and build a demonstration roadside rain garden site using the revised permit process.

The project site is 11th Avenue NW between 56th Street and 58th Street, in photo on the right. Currently, roadway runoff flows untreated into the stormdrain and through a pipe into Salmon Bay.

The project will also conduct a case study of similar green infrastructure projects in Canada and the United States, to determine best practices with citizen involvement. More on this effort coming soon.

The project will also organize and lead several tours, workshops, and other creative ways to engage citizens about urban water quality and green infrastructure in the urban environment.


Project site in green, from historic map from 1895 Road map of Ballard

Connect with our Facebook page, "East Ballard Greenstreet" for updates, photos, and upcoming events.


South Park Greenstreets

The South Park Greenstreets are grant-funded and community-initiated roadside rain gardens (or bioretention swales). The project seeks to soak up and filter polluted roadway runoff before it flows untreated through a stormwater system and into the Duwamish River. The project uses Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) design standards to improve the roadway through traffic calming, beautification and community-building. Urban Systems Design is collaborating with The South Park Area Redevelopment Committee (SPARC) and South Park Design Lab. Native plant consultation and wholesale discounts provided by Go Natives! nursery in Shoreline, WA.

South Rose Greenstreet - Phase 2

The South Rose Greenstreet - Phase 2 is funded through a 2013 Rose Foundation grant, as well as an EPA CARE grant, subawarded through the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition-TAG to improve air and water quality in the neighborhoods impacted by the ongoing Superfund cleanup. The project will work on the intersection of South Rose St, S. Orr St., and 12th Avenue South, which is one block south of the Phase 1 project site.

The project will work with King County Roads through a Special Use Permit to build 3-4 roadside swales in partnership with the adjacent residents, as well as plant trees along the street or in neighbors' yards. The project will be ongoing through 2014.

Connect with our Facebook page, "South Park Greenstreet" for updates, photos, and upcoming events.

South Southern Greenstreet - Phase 1

South Southern Greenstreet celebrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony with South Park residents and our project partners on June 15th, 2013 from 10am-12pm at the corner of 12th Avenue South and South Southern Street.
Click here for a Google Map link.

Urban Systems Design collaborated with The South Park Area Redevelopment Committee (SPARC), and received a 2011 King County "Green Grant" funding to design, permit and build four roadside rain gardens or bioswales along a neighborhood street in the South Park area.

"Before" Photo of the southeast corner of the intersection
The project site is at 12th Avenue South and South Southern Street. The Project Team worked with King County Roads through a Special Use Permit process and hired Laurie Pfarr of LDP Engineering to create the permit plans. The UW Landscape Architecture Fall 2013 Design Lab students worked closely with the four homeowners to create customized landscape designs and planting plans. Green Tech Excavation removed over 1300 square feet of asphalt and , and neighborhood leaders to site, design, and build a cluster of roadside rain gardens on the four street corners.

The project's four planted swales will collect over 185,000 gallons of roadway runoff each year that previously flowed untreated into the County stormwater system, and directly into the Duwamish River, bringing harmful toxins into the river's mud and food chain.


"After" Photo of the southeast corner of the intersection

The South Southern GreenStreet's 1,400 square feet of rain gardens cost $42,000 including $27,500 in grants, and nearly $16,000 in-kind contributions of services, and will infiltrate 185,000 gallons of runoff from 7,930 square feet of impervious surfaces (roads and sidewalk).

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Communication and Project Assistance

As a subconsultant to SvR Design, Urban Systems Design will be working through 2015 on various projects to support the efforts of Seattle Public Utilities and King County Wastewater Treatment Division to develop a coordinated approach to green stormwater infrastructure communications, design and implementation City-wide.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Historical and Cultural Context for South Park and Highland Park

As a subconsultant to HDR Engineering for King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD), Urban Systems Design will be working through mid-2014 to research and write three white papers about the historic and cultural context for implementing successful green stormwater infrastructure projects in the South Park and Highland Park neighborhoods. The work will also include identifying community concerns about GSI and developing marketing materials to meet the neighborhood's diverse language and cultural needs.


Past Projects

Residential Rain Garden Care Guide
for Residents and Community Organizations

Urban Systems Design was hired in 2013 as a consultant to Stewardship Partners 12,000 Rain Gardens program to develop, write, and edit a rain garden care guide for homeowners who have voluntary rain gardens in their yard or along their planting strip. Click here to download your copy!

Concerns about rain garden care are the #1 barrier for residents to participate in a rebate program or other grant-funded project.

The Rain Garden Care Guide was developed using surveys of current voluntary rain garden residents, hands-on neighborhood workshops, as well as presentations to gather feedback about content and design. Project partners include Resource Media, King County Master Gardeners, and residents, non-profit staff, landscape designers, and public involvement staff from local governments.

The guide was released to the public on Saturday, September 19th at the South Park Neighborhood Center. Over 30 people participated in the walking tour of rain gardens and happy rain garden homeowners were available to answer questions. Everyone enjoyed ice cream from South Park's own Full Tilt Ice Cream!

Stewardship Partners South Park & Ballard RainWise Outreach

Urban Systems Design was hired in 2012 and 2013 as a consultant to Stewardship Partners 12,000 Rain Gardens program to provide outreach, education, and coordination services to build a cluster or residential rain gardens and cisterns in the Ballard and South Park neighborhoods of Seattle.

The project seeks to increase participation in the City of Seattle's Rainwise rebate program (up to 100% of rain garden project costs), divert residential rainwater out of the combined sewer system and into rain gardens, and build community in the process.

Currently the project in South Park is partnering with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) Multicultural Outreach Team to reach out to Cambodian, Vietnamese and Latin American residents working with language interpreters and translated materials. The team has discovered some key learnings from the outreach work; residents from SE Asia and Latin America are familiar with the use of cisterns for water harvesting, but are not as interested to build a garden that will not be used for food. Lower income residents also don't usually have money to pay for the rain garden or cistern up front, and so there need to be funds or programs available to pay the contractor, who would then receive the rebate from the City of Seattle. Other feedback will be compiled here at the conclusion of the project in November 2013.

In Ballard, the project produced two residential block "clusters" of homeowners, who have hired rain garden or cistern contractors and received their rebate from the City. Totalled, the households are diverting over 180,000 gallons of rain water per year from the Combined Sewer System into beautiful, functional landscaping. Click here to read some great testimonials from past participants in the 12,000 Rain Gardens program.


South Orcas Greenstreet
Georgetown Riverview Restoration Project
- Phase 1 & 2

The project worked with several families who live along the historic residential South Orcas Street to design and build "curb-cut" rain gardens. Families helped select plants and worked with a landscape designer on overall layout.

Urban Systems Design was hired by Georgetown Community Council to provided project managment support, including the community outreach, coordination of the permit, construction, volunteer work parties, education, and project documentation and grant reporting.

The 1,375 square feet of rain gardens cost $32,000 plus in-kind contributions of services, and will take >300,000 gallons of runoff from 15,975 square feet of impervious surfaces (roads and sidewalk).

Completed rain garden in September 2013

The project is significant because it is the first community-led project to divert roadway runoff into raingardens, rather than flowing into the corner storm drains, and into the Duwamish River during storm events, carrying pollutants and debris.

The project created 12 cuts through the curb to drain stormwater into six raingardens along one residential street in the Georgetown neighborhood. Raingardens in the street right-of-way reduce pollution in the urban environment by channeling stormwater off the street and into six rain gardens planted with native grasses and shrubs that slow, filter and absorb runoff. 

Urban stormwater runoff carries pollution harmful to humans and wildlife, including oils, grease, chemicals, bacteria, and other wastes, and this toxic stew ends up in the nearest waterbody during heavy rain events. In Georgetown, the Duwamish River is the nearest waterbody, and is the focus of a Federal Superfund cleanup and local municipal efforts to control ongoing sources of pollution.

Stormwater flowing into street drain
across the street from the South Orcas Greenstreets

The South Orcas Greenstreet project partners hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 17, 2012 during a heavy rain/snowstorm!

The homeowners were joined by Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin; King County Wastewater Director, Pam Elardo; James Rasmussen of Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition; and project partners to cut the ribbon on the swales.

Tif King, homeowner; Cari Simson, Project Manager (with Rosie);
and Sherell Ehlers, Georgetown Community Council cut the ribbon
Photos: King County

Selected quotes from the homeowners and their children about the project:

"The Duwamish River is our river; it basically runs through our backyard. Having a rain garden in our planting strip is one small way we can help bring our river back to life after being mistreated for so long. Plus less yard to mow."
-Andy and Melissa

"So you don't pollute the river" (When asked why we have a rain garden)
-Jake (7 years old)

"Digging to put in the plants." (When asked what he likes about the rain garden)
-Emmet (5 years old)

The project is a partnership of local Georgetown residents, Georgetown Community Council, SvR Design staff, Seattle Conservation Corps, Merlino Construction, and uses funding from a Puget Soundkeeper Alliance grant.

The partners will use the Georgetown “Greenstreet” as a demonstration site for community groups, businesses, and governments that wish to develop similar projects in the street right-of-way.

Natural and cultural history of the Duwamish River valley

history mapPrior to Seattle’s development in the mid to late 1800s the project site was near the meandering Duwamish River, and the native marsh and forest ecosystem naturally absorbed stormwater. Constructed raingardens and bioretention swales seek to imitate these natural wetland processes.

Historically, this street was developed on top of a forested wetland in the late 1800s, on the banks of the Duwamish River, which was dredged and straightened starting in 1913. The map to the left uses an 1875 survey map of Elliott Bay (then known as Duwamish Bay), underlaid with today's street grid.

Map citation: T-1406;United States Coast & Geodetic Survey Topographic Sheet, Duwamish Bay, (part of) Washington Territory, 1875; Scale: 1:10,000; Surveyor: Jas. S. Lawson. Map overlay in Google Earth by Cari Simson.

The "X" marks the approximate project location of the S. Orcas Greenstreet.

Project partners used ecological research of the historic area to select plant species native to the Duwamish delta, to bring back elements of the historic river system to the built environment.

Click here for more information about the project's successes.

Phase 1: "Industrial-strength" Natural Drainage

Markey bioswaleThe Georgetown Riverview Restoration Project (GRRP), was coordinated and facilitated by Ms. Simson as a contracted professional working for the Georgetown Community Council from 2005-2010. The GRRP aligned the community’s need for pedestrian improvements in the Georgetown neighborhood, with the roadway improvements sought by the businesses that line the industrialized street called 8th Avenue South. The project team developed successful approaches to green infrastructure solutions in a complex site, and completed Seattle’s first “industrial strength” natural drainage swale in the frontage of Markey Machinery, an 100-year old marine-industrial business.

In 2010-2011, Ms. Simson will support and coordinate efforts to identify and implement an additional industrial natural drainage site in Georgetown, working with business(es), residents and local NGO partners. At the same time, Ms. Simson will also work with elected officials, municipal staff, and other stakeholders to create government programs or policies to assist property owners with a more streamlined process to install green infrastructure solutions on their property or adjacent right-of-way.

Read the Phase 1 report here.


Duwamish Vision

Ms. Simson, working as a contracted professional for the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition from 2007-2008, developed and organized the Duwamish Vision. She used a modified version of a facilitation technique used by urban design professionals to guide diverse participants through the inter-connected systems and functions of the built environment. The Duwamish Vision analyzed four systems, "Community Amenities," "Parks and Open Space," "Transportation," "Economic Development." The Duwamish Vision can be downloaded from here.

The Duwamish Vision project brought over 500 diverse stakeholders together to envision future uses, needs, and concerns for land surrounding Seattle’s Lower Duwamish River Superfund toxic cleanup site. The Duwamish Vision is currently being used by DRCC, the communities, and other stakeholders along the river to advocate in advance to the Environmental Protection Agency for a thorough cleanup of the Duwamish river that won't preclude future economic, community, or ecological development projects.

Duwamish Alive!

Ms. Simson has been hired as a contractor by both DRCC and People for Puget Sound to coordinate Duwamish Alive with project partners since the event began in 2006. Duwamish Alive is a collaborative network of habitat restoration and community stewardship organizations who work together to produce bi-annual events at multiple sites in the Duwamish watershed. Focus is on restoration and stewardship for the Duwamish River, which flows through the communities of Tukwila and South Seattle. Sites include shoreline and upland forest restoration areas.

In 2009, Duwamish Alive added a riverwide trash cleanup to the event, with partnerships with Alki Kayak Tours, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Argosy Cruises, Neal Chism, and the Port of Seattle, removing over 2 tons of trash from the river's banks and shorelines.

In 2011, working with Ms.Simson as a contractor, Duwamish Alive is transitioning into a more self-sustaining organization, focusing on developing ongoing restoration site stewardship, guiding tours of the habitat sites, fostering restoration design/build contractors, increasing outreach and media attention to sites, and increasing overall leadership capacity.

For more information about Duwamish Alive, please visit:


map Green Duwamish Watershed Map

Ms. Simson, working as a contracted professional for the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition from 2007-2008, developed and organized the Green-Duwamish Map. She coordinated a group of over 30 governmental, community, and NGO partners to develop content for a free, folded paper map. Since 2008, partners have given away over 30,000 maps to students of all ages, tour participants, volunteers, and other visitors to the Green-Duwamish valley.

The DRCC reprinted the map in April 2011, with some edits and updates, including historic photos, new trails, and pollution-prevention information.

DRCC released the map on April 16, 2011, during the semi-annual Duwamish Alive event. For more information, or to order maps, please visit:


Duwamish River T-107 Canoe and Kayak Launch, and Interpretive Sign

Ms. Simson, working as a contractor for Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition in 2011, combined resources with People for Puget Sound, the Port of Seattle, and the Rotary of West Seattle to improve the shoreline and upland habitat to create an improved kayak and canoe launch site, with an interpretive sign and bench. Ms Simson's role was to coordinate the development of the interpretive sign text, work with the artist on the overall look of the sign, outreach and media, and manage the final work party and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The completed Duwamish River T-107 Hand-Carry Boat Launch project included removing garbage, brick and metal debris from the shoreline, as well as removing invasive weeds, mulching to suppress new weeds, and installing native plants and trees. The site is a Port-owned riverside public access area called Terminal-107, adjacent to the City of Seattle Parks and Recreation site called Herring House Park, and across E. Marginal Way from the Duwamish Tribe's Longhouse and Cultural Center. This area along the river has become a habitat restoration, education, and recreation “hub” over the past ten years, with a marked increase in visitors. Many people also use the area for passive recreation, such as walking dogs, bird watching, photography, and fishing.

The project restores one small area of Duwamish River shoreline, and give canoe and kayakers an easily-identified launch site, with access to load hand-carry boats off of vehicles. Visitors will also learn about the history and current cleanup and restoration activities of the site through the interpretive sign. Click the sign to view a larger version.

Click here to read a more detailed report on the project, including photos.


The interpretive sign is installed at both T-107 and T-105 public access and habitat restoration areas. The canoe launch site is along the Duwamish River at T-107 public access site, 4700 West Marginal Way SW. Parking and drinking water is available on-site.

Partners include the West Seattle Rotary, People for Puget Sound, the Port of Seattle, the Burke Museum Archaeology Department, the Duwamish Tribe, Alki Kayak Tours, and Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition.
Sign design by Noel Designs 2011.




News & Updates:

December 2013: Urban Systems Design, in partnership with the South Park Area Redevelopment Committee, is a top 3 finalist for the Sustainable Seattle's Sustainability Leadership Award for the "Transforming Spaces" category for the South Park Greenstreet project. The Sustainability Leadership Awards ceremony will be held on January 31st at MOHAI. This annual event is dedicated to recognizing the outstanding efforts of community nominated organizations, businesses and individuals for leadership, innovation and commitment to making the Puget Sound region a more sustainable and livable place.

September 2013: Urban Systems Design worked with Resource Media to develop a handy Outreach and Communications How-to Guide for organizations or agencies seeking to work with the public on rain garden or green infrastructure projects. The guide can be downloaded here.

September 2013: Urban Systems Design is on the Barker Landscape Architecture-led team selected by Seattle Parks Foundation to organize and deliver the South Park Green Space Visioning project. The project will commence in September 2013 and work with people who live, work and visit the neighborhood to identify parks and open space improvements.

September 2013: Urban Systems Design is on the HDR Inc.-led consultant team selected by King County Wastewater to provide On-call Services for Green Stormwater Infrastructure services (2013-2015). Her role with include writing white papers on the historical, cultural and other factors related to "Understanding the community context of the Lower Duwamish around Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) technical outreach implementation."

June 15, 2013: Urban Systems Design and King County Wastewater co-hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the successful completion of the South Southern Greenstreet with South Park residents and our project partners. Location: the corner of 12th Avenue South and South Southern Street. Open to the Public - Hot Dogs and Cake! Information about RainWise rain garden rebates

April 2013: Urban Systems Design is on the SvR Design-led consultant team selected by King County Wastewater and City of Seattleled to provide Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Planning (2013-2015).

Sightline Daily from November 26, 2012 featured Cari Simson and her consulting work with Stewardship Partners in its article, "It takes a Cluster to Build a Rain Garden." The article highlighted her successful outreach to Ballard residents to participate in the Seattle Public Utilities rain garden rebate program called RainWise.

On November 14, 2012, Cari Simson presented a luncheon address at the National Association of Clean Water Agencies Seattle conference, "Clean Water Success Stories – How to Build Community-Utility Partnerships Through Green Infrastructure."

Urban Systems Design and South Park Area Redevelopment Committee (SPARC) have been chosen to receive a $60,000 grant from the Rose Foundation for the "South Rose GreenStreet & Duwamish Riverfront Revival" project for 2013.

November 2012: Urban Systems Design and Antioch University Seattle (AUS) have been chosen to receive a $55,000 grant from The Russell Family Foundation for the "Roadside Rain Gardens - Communities For Clean Water" project in 2013.

Urban Systems Design, Stewardship Partners, and Resource Media have been chosen by King Conservation District to receive a $50,000 grant "Community Rain Garden Maintenance," to develop and pilot a maintenance program with homeowners in 2013.

On June 20, 2012 Cari Simson presented at the Sightline Institute's Polluted Runoff Learning Cohort about the "Industrial Strength" Natural Drainage project with Bob Lecoque from Markey Machinery. Many resources, including links and presentations are available on the Sightline web site.

An April 4, 2012 SightlineDaily article featured Ms Simson and the "Industrial Strength" and "Orcas GreenStreet" rain garden projects' successes.

Urban Systems Design was awarded a $25,000 grant to work with the South Park Area Redevelopment Committee in 2012 to develop a natural drainage project in the right-of-way of South Elmgrove Street. The roadway drains directly to the Duwamish River. The project will capture and filter stormwater in planted bioswales along the street's edge.

Arcade: Architecture and Design in the Northwest, June 2011: Issue 29.3, "The Good Life Reconsidered" Profile of Cari Simson: A Design Approach to Sustainable Community Involvement


Ms. Simson will be teaching at Antioch University - Seattle B.A. Completion Program Winter Quarter 2014: "Water Rights & Wars: a Local and Global Perspective," featuring an in-depth study of the Elwha River's history, dam removal and restoration efforts

Ms. Simson taught a class called "Water Rights & Wars: a Global Perspective" during Spring quarter 2012 at Antioch University - Seattle B.A. Completion Program.

Ms. Simson taught a class called Urban Restoration, about citizen involvement in the built environment, Winter quarter 2012 at Antioch University - Seattle B.A. Completion Program.


Cari Rowe Simson
Seattle, Washington
206-234-5102 / Email

A full résumé is available by request.

She's earned a certificate in Urban Green Infrastructure planning through the University of Washington's Professional and Continuing Education program, 2010.

View a copy of her 2005 Masters thesis,"Habitat Restoration and the Cultivation of Sustainable Habits," focusing on Duwamish River community participatory design and civic involvement, from Antioch University - Seattle, Master of Whole Systems Design program.