October 15, 2013 at 5:50 am CDT

A guy in a fancy suit rolls into a slum in a dark sedan in the opening of a new British Samsung commercial produced by Leo Burnett Chicago . Dickensian urchin children emerge in the alleys. They’re not exactly covered in coal dust, but you get the point. These kids don’t have much.

The kids begin to sing that they “are not proud of [their addresses] in the torn-up town.” But they also eschew the materialism that is found in hip-hop culture like tigers on gold leashes, luxury liquors and cars. They want “a different kind of buzz,” that is presumably more attainable. The song Royals was written by a teenager in New Zealand who sings under the name Lorde. It’s one of the hottest songs on the planet.

A new Samsung ad featuring Lorde’s Royals

As the stranger coordinates activity from his smartphone, wrecking balls start taking out buildings. We see a steamroller mowing down a piece of playground equipment. The children continue singing about how they will never have the luxury life and how they don’t want it.

The punch line is that the buildings are being replaced with a new soccer field, and the guy in the suit is a famous soccer player. He smiles and rolls a ball to the children who rush the field excitedly. In a statement, Samsung says the project is representative of actual work done by the foundation Lionel Messi, the soccer star, heads up. It also describes it as “a secret construction project.”

But this is just a commercial. This stuff doesn’t happen in real life, right?

Oh, it does in Chicago. On a warm summer Friday night, under cover of darkness, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent crews into the Pilsen neighborhood on a secret deconstruction project – to level the Whittier Elementary School Fieldhouse . It was used as a community center and children’s library including holding a sit-in in 2010. The residents had rallied behind it and were raising money to repair the structure, which the city deemed unsafe. Will the city build a new library in its place? Nope. It’s going to be … a soccer field.

In her epic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities , Jane Jacobs tells the story of a housing project in East Harlem in the 1950s. It had a large lawn that the residents had come to hate. A social worker asked one of the residents why and was told, “We don’t have a place around here to get a cup of coffee or a newspaper even … Nobody cared what we needed. But the big men come and look at that grass and say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful! Now the poor have everything!’”

I know what you’re thinking. They used to buy newspapers. How quaint.

That’s not my point. And that’s not what Lorde and Samsung can teach us about urban planning. In Chicago’s case, I have yet to read a report that cites any community desire to have a new soccer field. What the community wanted was a place with books where kids could gather, be safe and learn. In East Harlem, they wanted their housing project to have places to sit together and have a cup of coffee, and retail establishments they could walk to. In the commercial, a soccer field is exactly what the kids want. Perhaps it’s what the adults want, too. But it’s also entirely likely that it’s what a super-wealthy athlete thinks the community wants. Those kids, and the kids in Chicago, face some pretty long odds. Roughly one in three kids under the age of 5 in Chicago lives below the poverty line.

The lesson, learned indirectly, is that we need to listen when we’re planning and hear what residents say. Then we have to act on what we hear. In Lorde’s song, the singer “craves a different kind of lux” from what the mainstream thinks she desires. If the community cries out for a library or a school – not another field – we should honor that. We need to realize that one grand act won’t solve anything. A soccer field isn’t going to raise a new generation of engineers, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs – but a library might help.

We need to read our books in our libraries – perhaps starting with Jane Jacobs. Many answers are in there already. We might never be “Royals,” but our cities can work with us, instead of against us, and at least get us back on the path to that place between castles and slums.

This was originally posted on Livability.com, home of the Top 100 Best Places to Live rankings. Copyright Journal Communications Inc. Reprinted with permission.