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When a beloved city abandons you

AFTER AN earth-shattering end to October when we celebrated a pro sports parade for the first time in my aware lifetime, we were rockin' 'n' rollin' here in the City of Champions - for about a week.

AFTER AN earth-shattering end to October when we celebrated a pro sports parade for the first time in my aware lifetime, we were rockin' 'n' rollin' here in the City of Champions - for about a week.

Though the rest of the country was already deep in the economic doldrums, we were buoyed by a spirit of accomplishment so desperately needed that it tuned out all bad news.

Then, on Nov. 6, Mayor Nutter dropped a bomb so loud it managed to get through the foam fingers in our ears. Philadelphia, like every other city, has some serious financial problems.

We can thank the Phils for letting us escape that reality for a month or so. But had we been paying attention back in September, we probably could've avoided the punch in the gut of the proposed cuts in city services.

I voted for Mayor Nutter and the change he embodied. I don't envy his job. He has to balance a budget that, if you think of it as a table, has 3 1/2 legs.

We're always going to come up short on the end where unfunded pension obligations and other fixed costs reside. In order to try to make that table stand up straight, cuts to the other three legs usually come from the programs that truly make Philadelphia the special place where we grew up and still live, the place we call home.

As these legs are shaved down, and libraries, pools, fire companies and other services next on the list go away, the Philadelphia we wanted to share with our kids vanishes. Soon, we won't be able to go home again, even though we never left.

Next year's budget will be austere, to say the least. Those we elected will have to quantify Philadelphia's priorities, an almost impossible task.

At the recent town meetings on the cuts, city officials handed out a sheet asking those in attendance to "prioritize" government. While I admire the willingness to engage people, I disagree with the method and hope that a survey sheet handed out to an angry, yet-mostly-controlled mob has little influence on the budget. I also appreciate the tacit admission that those in government may not have all the answers.

All of us, especially those charged with governing, have an important question to ask ourselves. Why do we live in Philadelphia? Because some magazine said that might be cool? If so, good for you, but a lot of us live here because it's home.

We were born here and think our parents (along with the village) did a good job raising us. We may not have had much, but what we did have - playgrounds, libraries, safety - was enough.

We believe in Philadelphia. It seems silly, but we love it. This love of community and the things that make our neighborhoods so special are attracting people to Philadelphia. Young families from all parts of the area and the nation are looking at the city and our neighborhoods.

And they are doing it in many of the areas targeted in the first round of budget cuts. But like a lot of us in these targeted communities, our newer and prospective neighbors are probably wondering what's going on.

It's hard for them and for us to see the thinking behind removing those cultural and quality-of-life touchstones that make Philadelphia the city we love. In three or so months, when the mayor and council begin a battle over the new budget, what do we lose next? What part of home is gone? Will it be recreation or another thing that is always undervalued by government but treasured by those who pay for it?

I hope those in charge listen to the message carried by those who've stood up for their libraries and firehouses. I hope they value things that cost pennies on the dollar, like libraries, youth activities and after-school programs, and keep them off the chopping block. I hope they bring the knowledge they've gained from their schooling and combine it with some street sense.

IF THOSE advising Mayor Nutter and Council do this, if they value those things that make Philadelphia home to all of us, we'll be able to get through this budget crisis. But if they make choices with little consideration for the essence of Philadelphia and focus on some quirky initiatives meant more for policy-wonk awards than real results, we'll all lose in the end.

People will continue to leave and those who stayed and believed we were turning the corner will be left wondering what happened.

And soon they'll be the next generation of ex-Philadelphians calling somewhere else home. *

A.J., Megan, Julia and soon-to-born Baby Thomson call Fishtown home.