Whether it has been a late train or a less than pleasant smelling subway platform, we have all had our own issues with the city’s public transportation system. It is the easiest way to get where you need to go, but with so much cause for complaint, most people probably wish they could find alternative means of getting around town. Anne Nielson, a resident of the Logan neighborhood, is one Philadelphian who is not affected by such transportation problems. We were invited to meet up with Anne at her row home on North 12th Street so that we could see how she gets around the city.
Anne, with pit bull Peaches in tow, greets us at the front door in a pair of light washed jeans and a graphic T-shirt fitted tightly to her six-month pregnant belly. She keeps her hair pulled back from her face in a French braid and seems almost out of breath as she smiles warmly. She holds a cup of yogurt in hand, as we are welcomed inside to a living room filled with mismatched furniture and family portraits lining the wall. Anne appears to be in rush mode now as it is 2:45 p.m. and time to pick up her daughter Miriam from James Logan Elementary School. Along trash-strewn sidewalks and through quiet side streets, we joined Anne Neilson on her daily walk and got a glimpse into her distinctive world.
Since 2000, Anne, her husband Michael and their four children have resided in Philadelphia and have hardly used public transportation. They are in close proximity to their church on Broad Street, the public library on Wagner Avenue and their daughter’s school. Although public transportation seems as though it can be convenient at times, Anne chooses to walk instead.
“It’s not because I don’t like (public transportation), but because it would just be too much of a hassle with four kids,” she says. “I can’t even imagine.”
Anne lives, what can best be described as a unique lifestyle in her neighborhood. She was brought up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and carries on a staunch devotion to the Mormon religion today with her own family. Throughout our walk, she lets us into this world that oftentimes is subject to preconceived notions and negative connotation.
“We follow the church’s teachings and that means there are some things that are never okay to do,” Anne says.
She is referring to the beliefs of the church that include prohibitions of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine among other things. Throughout our walk she tells us of the tithing practices of the church and, upon a sparked discussion of the Proposition 8 controversy in California, lets us in on her own personal beliefs regarding homosexuality.
“It’s not a lifestyle choice; it’s a sin,” she says adamantly.
Her devotion to the church is unquestionable, and although one might pin describe her as uncharacteristic, it is not entirely the case. As Anne puts it, she grew up among a “different kind of diversity” in Los Angeles—over 50 percent of her high school was of Taiwanese descent— and she, therefore, has experience among people of different cultures. However, not everyone in Anne’s position has been able to overcome being an outsider within such a community. She tells us of other church members in the area who have experienced varied forms of antagonism when they have been told to “go back” where they come from. Anne feels lucky that her family has not experienced such episodes, but she notes that it is not always easy living in a neighborhood where most people don’t share such strict values.
“There have been kids doing drugs on the porch across the street before and people who have blared their music so loudly our walls have rattled,” she says. “But when we moved here, we decided we were going to be happy and embrace it.”
One might imagine that someone like Anne would feel intimidated walking around an area like this, but to the contrary. She keeps her head up the entire time and extends a warm smile to many residents in passing. After picking up her daughter from school, she holds her hand for almost the entire duration of the walk and stops for a few moments to greet Linda, the crossing guard, on Broad Street. It is more than evident that Anne has tried to get to know her neighbors because most greet her back with the same warmth she extends to them. Her walks through Logan have clearly helped in the process of getting to know both the people and the neighborhood she lives in.
When many of us are put into uncomfortable situations, we tend to pull back from those circumstances to stay where it is safe. Walking has helped Anne Nielson to adapt better to the Logan neighborhood, and it has helped her build relationships with those around her. She chooses to put herself out there for people to see, and she is not fearful of what could happen in an area where many would be hesitant to walk around.
“For me, walking around the neighborhood has never been something I felt afraid of doing,” Nielson says. “We are just trying to have ties to the community…we’re here to be part of the solution.”