Cortney Mild: From ballet to bikes
The path from professional ballerina to community planner might seem little-used, indeed.
But Cortney Mild is making that very trip, atop her vehicle-of-choice: a bicycle.
Mild, a GTF in the University of Oregon’s Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management, is an emerging talent in bicycle planning for communities.
In addition to receiving numerous awards, Mild has been named one of the top 20 graduate students studying transportation across the country by Washington, D.C.-based Eno Center for Transportation. She’ll travel to the capital in June for a conference at which she’ll talk transportation planning with leading policy makers, lobbyists, industry leaders and advocates from across the country.
Mild is also president of LiveMove, an interdisciplinary student group at the UO that addresses livability and alternative transportation.
Mild’s passion for bicycling dates to her days as an undergraduate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She was studying ballet and found a welcome release in triathlons.
“In ballet, you’re always getting constant correction and critique of every movement,” Mild said. “(The triathlons) were a way of reclaiming my body and being able to do something physical that I didn’t have to critique every movement.”
After graduation in 2007, Mild danced professionally for the Chattanooga Ballet of Tennessee for three years.
But something was missing.
“I was in my 20s and in the save-the-world mode,” Mild said. “I saw community planning as a way I could have more impact on the community as a whole.”
After enrolling in the UO's PPPM program in fall 2010, Mild landed an internship with a consulting firm in the Netherlands that allowed her to see firsthand the benefits of a balanced transportation system.
“They've created a system that encourages people to use certain modes of transportation they're best suited for,” Mild said.
In the U.S., for example, a house and a school might be geographically close to one another – yet the only access is by way of a neighboring highway that is dangerous for bikes and takes motorists well out of their way.
In the Netherlands, pedestrian and bike “connector” routes are common and city centers have commercial hubs that cannot be reached by car. In some cities in Europe, about half of commuters are bicyclists.
Mild wrote a plan for Chattanooga that explained how European transportation policies could be applied. She's also worked with Springfield on connectivity and bike-pedestrian paths.
For her thesis, Mild interviewed local government officials from across the country who went on bike tours of Europe to accelerate infrastructure change in the states. The tours were sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and Bikes Belong, a national advocacy group.
In addition to networking with important bike and pedestrian advocates, Mild is providing a definitive evaluation of the officials' tour.
One success story, from her interviews: Colored pavement, which identifies space for bicycles, has been added to temporary federal provisions in the U.S., making it easier for cities to use such measures.
Mild also found barriers to bike-friendly communities in the states: Lack of funding, design expertise and federal guidance, as well as a stubborn cultural barrier – “most people don't think of bicycling as a legitimate form of transportation,” Mild said.
Marc Schlossberg, an associate professor in the PPPM program, said, “in her two short years at the UO, Cortney has made a huge impact – on students at the UO, within the communities immediately surrounding the UO and at a national level where her thesis results are being eagerly awaited.
“I fully expect Cortney to make a significant national impact in re-balancing the nation's transportation system toward more sustainable modes,” Schlossberg continued, “and given the urgent challenges of climate change, obesity and tight fiscal constraints, her impact cannot happen a moment too soon.”
As a dancer, Mild reached a point where she felt she could rise no higher. Now that she's pursuing a career in public policy or planning, the future is once again packed with potential.
But there's little mystery to how she reinvented herself.
“I'm not anything special,” Mild said. “I didn't have inherent skills for ballet or bike riding. It's just seeing a challenge and working hard. I seek challenges and this career change was a challenge for me.”
-- by communications specialist Matt Cooper, UO media relations