Simonsen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. His family relocated San Antonio, and later to Austin, Texas, when he was young.
Simonsen attended A.S. Johnston High School in Austin, where he graduated with high honors. He earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree, with an emphasis on urban design and city planning, from the University of Texas at Austin. He completed a Master of Arts in Community Leadership degree at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
Simonsen is married to Heather Simonsen, an author and former television news reporter. They live in the Sugar House area of Salt Lake City. Simonsen is a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for which he served a two-year mission in the Norway Oslo Mission from 1987 to 1989.
Soren Simonsen was the Democratic nominee for the United States House of Representatives in Utah's 3rd District in the 2012 general election. He filed his candidacy on March 15, 2012, and won the Democratic nomination outright, with 77% of delegate votes, at the Utah Democratic Convention in Salt Lake City, on April 21, 2012.
Simonsen lost the race—with just shy of 56,000 votes or about 24% of ballots cast—to two-term Republican incumbent, Jason Chaffetz, in a Republican dominated voting district.
Simonsen's campaign focused on five key issues:
He advocated for comprehensive ethics reform, and campaign finance reform to restore constitutional rights guaranteed to the people of the United States including a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision in 2010 that effectively granted personhood to corporations.
He advocated for a streamlined tax code, and modest reforms to strengthen social security and medicare that would include incentives for a volunteer corps program tied to benefits. He advocated for drastically reducing national debt by ending costly wars in the Middle East and reducing military spending, and closing tax loopholes for higher income levels. He advocated for increased investment in domestic renewable energy production and critical transportation infrastructure, and incentives to stimulate U.S. manufacturing.
He advocated for innovative public education programs as the foundation of a strong economy. He advocated for restoring the U.S. competitive edge in a global marketplace, and viewing education as an exportable resource to tackle global climate, poverty, and environmental stewardship issues.
He advocated for protection of Utah’s wild lands from private interests, preserving public access for future generations, and insuring that our national landmarks are conserved, well managed and maintained.
He advocated for preserving and expanding the fundamental human rights described in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He advocated for removal of social and economic barriers to women, minorities, and families. He advocated redefining marriage to allow all, including same gender couples, to marry. He advocated for rebuilding U.S. prominence as a welcoming land to immigrants who contribute to the prosperity and cultural richness of society.
Simonsen has twice been elected to the Salt Lake City Council, first in November 2005, and again in November 2009. He is currently the Chair of the City Council. Simonsen represents the greater Sugar House area of Salt Lake City, which includes the Sugar House and 21st & 21st Business Districts, as well as the Westminster, Forest Dale, Nibley Park, Highland Park, and Country Club neighborhoods. The Sugar House/Fairmont neighborhood was recently recognized as one of the 10 Great Neighborhoods in America by the American Planning Association.
Simonsen has served Salt Lake City through an era of unprecedented public and private capital investment. He was a champion for the Sugar House/South Salt Lake Streetcar and Greenway, ushering in a new era of streetcar service in the Salt Lake Valley. Other notable public projects he helped guide through implementation include the massive FrontLines 2015 transit expansion, which has advanced completion of a light rail line from downtown to the Salt Lake City International Airport, nearly 90 miles of commuter rail, additional streetcar projects in downtown Salt Lake City and into South Davis County, a $125 million "net zero" Public Safety Complex, an over 100 acre regional sports park, completion of the Jordan River Parkway and Parleys Trail interurban trails, expansion of over 100 lane-miles of bicycle facilities, new branch libraries in the Glendale and West Capitol neighborhoods, and the ongoing $1-billion makeover of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
In addition to public investments, he offered guidance and urban design oversight to notable private projects including the 20-acre City Creek Center and 222 South Main Office Building projects in downtown, a major Sugar House Business District revitalization initiative closely linked to the streetcar development, Granary District revitalization, as well as numerous urban infill and transit oriented development projects completed through partnerships with the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City, of which Simonsen serves on the Board of Directors.
Simonsen has participated in and championed the development of numerous progressive public policies, including a high performance building program, major expansion to alternative transportation and complete street systems, development of a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling program, a comprehensive sustainable city code rewrite, and the development of several socially progressive programs such as a domestic partner benefits program for city employees, a domestic partner registry, a non-discrimination ordinance for housing and employment, and "normalization" of several controversial alcohol regulations.
As the chair of the City Council in 2012, Simonsen guided the implementation of a community-led council and school board redistricting process, a 10-year capital facilities plan, a citywide comprehensive plan, new zoning programs for accessory units and neighborhood business nodes, expansion of complete street implementation programs, and a comprehensive historic preservation program, among others.
Simonsen has been primarily non-partisan in his political activity. He has been politically active on progressive issues and public policy since his college years. While in Austin he protested the Iraqi Gulf War and South African Apartheid. After returning to Utah, he volunteered on the 1992 presidential campaign for Ross Perot, and the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader. He has worked on numerous local elections, including the 2003 Salt Lake City bond campaign for The Leonardo and an open space acquisition bond, the 2006 Utah Transit Authority "Frontlines" bond election for massive transit expansion, and notable city mayoral races for Mayor Rocky Anderson in 2003, and Mayor Ralph Becker in 2007. Simonsen served as the Environmental and Sustainability Advisor to Mayor Becker's transition team.
Simonsen has been critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and active in his advocacy on climate change and poverty issues.
Simonsen first registered as a Democrat in early 2008 to vote in Utah's closed primary election and select Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee, and support his campaign initiatives for peace and diplomacy. He remained active in the Democratic Party through his 2012 congressional campaign, but is now unaffiliated with a political party.
Prior to his election to the city council, Simonsen served in several appointed positions, including the chair of the Salt Lake City Historic Landmark Commission and chair of the Mayor's Environmental Advisory Committee under Mayor Rocky Anderson. He has also served as the board chair for the Utah Arts Festival and the Parleys Trail (PRATT) Coalition Advisory Board.
While serving on the city council, Simonsen was appointed to represent Salt Lake City in the formation of the Jordan River Commission. He currently serves as a member of the Utah Quality Growth Commission, an appointment by Governor Gary Herbert.
Simonsen aspired to a career in architecture at an early age. He was first licensed as an architect in 1995, and later became a certified urban planner (AICP) in 2001. His career has included award-winning work in architecture, urban design, and community and regional planning.
Simonsen was the first LEED Accredited Professional in Utah, and has been an advocate for sustainable design and community development. He was the architect of the first LEED NC Platinum Certified building in Utah, the Swaner EcoCenter, and also guided development and certification of the first LEED Silver Certified school in Utah, an elementary school and community center located in the Daybreak Community in South Jordan. Simonsen was the principal architect for the Utah Valley University Digital Learning Center and Library in Orem a pilot project for the Utah High Performance Building Program. Simonsen advocated for and guided the development of high performance building programs for Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the State of Utah.
Simonsen has been an adjunct faculty member in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning of the University of Utah College of Architecture and Planning, teaching courses in sustainable development and urban planning. He is a frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the western United States—including the University of Utah, Utah State University, Brigham Young University, BYU Idaho, University of Oregon, and Westminster College—covering topics related to sustainable community development, urban planning, environmental design, historic preservation and public policy.
Following a 3-year research project on urban issues, Simonsen has embarked on developing curriculum programs to promote urban literacy for elementary, secondary and higher education students. According to Simonsen, the urban issues of population growth and resource constraints facing cities in the 21st century are unprecedented, and will require cross-disciplinary collaboration that encompasses virtually every professional discipline.
Simonsen has been an early and ongoing advocate for Envision Utah, a grassroots coalition-building partnership focused on addressing long-term regional growth issues in the greater Wasatch Region. He was recognized in 2006 with the Young Architects Award by the American Institute of Architects, and has received 3 Utah Best of State Gold Medals in Community Development. Community-building projects he has directed and contributed to have been recognized with 19 Governor's Quality Growth Awards from Envision Utah.
Simonsen chaired the Young Architects Forum (2005) and Regional & Urban Design Committee (2008) of the American Institute of Architects. He has also served on national legislative policy and advocacy committees for the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association, and has also been elected to leadership positions for local chapters of these organizations.