In the past 48 hours, PubliCola has given me the chance to describe an ideal world. I've talked about how to make it safe to walk down the street with your grandma or your little kid and how we might better provide services and support to some of the community members we pass along the way. But where can grandma and our kids go on those safe sidewalks? And where can families play and picnic once their basic food and shelter needs are met?

Seattle is a green city. We have one of the best parks and recreation systems in the country, if not the world, some of it purposefully designed by the well-known Olmsted brothers. It's one of the reasons I chose to live here. However, with the city facing a $56 million shortfall next year, our world-class parks system could be in jeopardy.

The city's parks department does more for us than just keep grass looking pretty. They provide places for families to get much-needed physical activity; for singles to have a picnic on a first date; for at-risk youth to be encouraged by a mentor; and for all Seattle residents to take classes ranging from cooking to piano to yoga. In the long run, a stable parks system could actually save the city money: Study after study has confirmed that providing young people and fun activities reduces health and emotional problems and acts as a deterrent to crime and gang activity.

Mayor Mike McGinn and the city council don't have an easy job ahead of them. Council parks committee vice-chairman Tom Rasmussen, who headed the parks committee for several years, told me that during the most recent recession, then-mayor Greg Nickels proposed charging a small parking fee to help cover the expense of running the parks system. The city discarded under protest from drivers then, but let’s raise the question again now: Would Seattle residents be willing to pay a 75¢ fee to park in city-owned parking spaces if they knew it would keep the nearby community center (and its bathrooms) open?

Rasmussen said he'd have to hear from the public before deciding if he'd support a parking fee.

This year's budget cycle will be painful to watch. That's why it's important for people to show up and speak on behalf of crucial services during this year's budget hearings. I plan to make an effort to tell city leaders which services I want to protect and what sacrifices I am willing to make to keep them. Will you?