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Street Smart
"I was raised in the slums. I'm used to danger."

A term with dual meaning, a "street smart" person is one who "knows the streets" of a heavily-populated, urban area. It is also often used to mean a character with an extremely pragmatic and insightful mentality that is applied to being able to survive the mean "streets" of Real Life by dealing with other people. For many characters, both traits are combined at the same time — possessed of a survivalist sense well-suited to the city but with insight often equally applicable in other areas.

The core components to Street Smarts are:

  • Ability to read others and determine intent. One need not be a Living Lie Detector to qualify as Street Smart, but a character is far more likely to be unduly suspicious than overly trusting. The talent for deception also tends to work both ways, and the character can be quick with a bluff or misdirection.
  • Ability to think on the fly and to improvise. The Indy Ploy is made of this, as is MacGyvering.
  • Ability to keep one's cool, even when bullets are flying. The better a character is at Casual Danger Dialogue, the more likely they are to be Street Smart.
  • Awareness of one's surroundings. Knowing the terrain is a huge plus.
  • Good gut instincts. Their intuition may not always aid them, but if everything else fails them, their gut will guide them to the right place.

This trope may go hand-in-hand with Book Dumb, illustrating that there is more than one way in which to be "intelligent". In that case, Street Smarts are usually the "underestimated" variety of intelligence, and often implied to be more important in the end. After all, a Street Smart (but Book Dumb) character might fail a Chemistry test, but a Book Smart (and Street Stupid) character may ace the test yet fail to make it out of danger alive without the assistance of their Street Smart intellectual "inferior". That said, a Street Smart character by no means must be a poor academic performer. It is in fact entirely possible to be Street Smart and Book Smart, allowing for a character with encyclopedic knowledge that can apply their skills on the fly even in heated situations.

As street smarts are learned through experience and time, even naive characters can grow to be increasingly street-wise over the course of a single series. Taking a level in badass often involves an increase in street skills.

The Satisfied Street Rat is by definition this type, as is any successful Street Urchin. A frequent component of the Guile Hero.

Street Stupid characters may fall under the heading of No Social Skills. If they're Book Smart on top of it, they may be a Ditzy Genius.

Not to be confused with Street Smarts, a game show from the early 2000s.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • Batman; absolutely a case of Street Smart meets Book Smart.
  • Every comic book character who's more of a brawler than a formal fighter usually qualifies. Examples include The Punisher, Daredevil, Wildcat Grant, Jason Todd, The Thing and countless others.
    • Matt Murdock graduated from Columbia University Law School, which makes him another case of Alley Acumen meets Monograph Mastery.
  • As a former Street Urchin grown into a Guile Hero, Gambit of the X-Men would be a card-carrying member of this trope. Literally.
  • Parodied in Calvin and Hobbes, where Moe the bully is said to be "streetwise".
    Calvin: That means he knows what street he lives on.

    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin's title character. Although he does make some notoriously poor judgment calls in almost every other area imaginable, his survival instinct, ability to think on his feet and improvise are fundamental to his very character.
    Aladdin: Hey, I'm a street rat, remember? I'll improvise.
  • Thomas O'Malley from The Aristocats.
  • Disney's Lady and the Tramp. Tramp was a canine version. During the movie he introduced Lady to how dogs without masters lived.
  • Dodger's gang in Oliver & Company.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Vincent's girlfriend Carmen in The Color of Money is a lot more world-saavy and experienced than he is. It says a lot that the two met after she was arrested for driving the getaway car when her former boyfriend was breaking into Vincent's parents' home.,,
  • On Tommy Boy, this explicitly said to be Tommy's ability, reflected in being good at swindling people into buying from him.

    Literature 
  • Commander Vimes in Discworld, who grew up on the streets of Ankh-Morpork, and went on to become its senior police officer. Captain Carrot, while no longer a Na´ve Newcomer, still isn't quite there.
    • Not that a guy who can cold-cock a troll with a right cross AND make Ankh-Morpork children act like boyscouts actually needs to be.
  • In Sid Fleischman's novel The Whipping Boy, the eponymous whipping boy.
  • Kim from Rudyard Kipling's Kim.
  • Vin from Mistborn grew up on the streets and in thieving crews, naturally she had to become extremely street smart in order to live.
  • As "The Man With the Twisted Lip" illustrates, Sherlock Holmes had enough street smarts to negotiate Victorian London's East End slums, which is no inconsiderable amount of street smarts
  • Skylar in Gives Light. It comes with the territory, perhaps, as his father works illegally as a coyote.
  • Lucky in Survivors thanks to his experience of living on the streets. He even uses his brains to outsmart the Fierce Dogs that were attacking his friends.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is Street Smart, as are most Slayers in general. They typically contrast with the Book Smart Watchers. However, Buffy's poor academic performance is chalked up to other factors rather than being Book Dumb (she's actually quite intelligent), and Giles can be rather Street Smart himself, especially compared to other watchers.
  • Penny from The Big Bang Theory is Street Smart but Book Dumb whereas the rest of the characters are Book Smart but don't always have the best instincts in real world social settings.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is the common interpretation of the "Wisdom" score in many Tabletop RPGs, especially Dungeons & Dragons. Wisdom is generally a combination of "Common Sense/Instinct" and "Street Smarts", which fits in with several of the skills who use Wisdom and directly contrasts "Intelligence" (the classic "Book Smart" stat).
    • 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons has a skill called "Streetwise". Which is the ability to, for example, enter a strange town and find out who's who. What the "word on the street" is, etc.
  • The "Streetwise" ability in Old World of Darkness and New World of Darkness RPGs gives the character street smarts, manifesting as gut instinct while on the streets and knowledge of the underground.
  • Similar to the above, Spycraft has a streetwise skill, used to gain money from gambling, make contact with the black market to obtain gear, and bypass other skill checks by using bribery. This makes a highly-skilled streetwise character essentially the epitome of this trope, frequently able to cut the gordian knot of skill challenges designed to require a diverse array of various skills and training with a few hundred dollars and a single skill roll.
  • Rifts, as well as other Palladium games, has the Rogue skill category, which includes skills like Streetwise, Find Contraband, and I.D. Undercover Agent. Also, the Vagabond Character Class has the exclusive skill "Eyeball a Fella," which works like the first item on the list in the trope description.
  • The Champions RPG uses the "Area Knowledge" skill to represent this.
  • The Mongoose Publishing Babylon 5 RPG uses this as a subsection of the "Knowledge" skill-focusing on an area provides greater bonuses on related skills (knowing the current events on the backstreets of a city is easier to find out (and provides more thorough information on roll results) than the events of a whole planet, for example).

    Video Games 
  • Leon from F-Zero (more specifically, he made his debut in X) is said to be not particularly bright. This is possibly justified, given that his backstory involves in his home planet Zou being sacked by invaders (Leon himself losing his parents and his left eye) and still shakily recovering 12 years down the road, so Leon most likely never had the chance to receive a proper education. However, his natural instinct has made him very cunning. When the Arrows were vacationing on his planet, he showed superb handling of Super Arrow's King Meteor in his first foray with a F-Zero machine (impressing the couple to the point that they adopted him). He had a slow start when he finally joined the F-Zero races, but caught on quick, resulting in a respectable track record over time (not that you'd know this; due to the poor A.I. he's been plagued with in GX, he usually ends up dead last).
  • Makoto Nanaya of BlazBlue comes off as a bit of a ditz if you limit yourself to CT flashbacks, but throughout Continuum Shift she shows signs of this - especially in her own story, Slight Hope. Reading others and determining intent? She comes to trust Noel and Tsubaki quickly in Heart to Heart, but she doesn't trust Hazama at all. Gut instincts? Bang only needs mention a half-mask for her to identify Relius Clover and the dire nature of his involvement. Keeping level-headed? Many of Terumi's trolling efforts are thrown off or reprised with inquiries. Flexible planning? Slight Hope is all about this, as she tries to save her friends whilst avoiding whatever unneeded attention she possibly can. Environmental awareness? When Jin passes out in Decision, she relies on her visit in Slight Hope and figures it's best to get him to Orient Town for medical attention. Also, in Friendship she has business with all her fixed encounters, with no unexpected surprises. Given the evidence on other fronts, she may have trouble realizing this is a positive outcome of her tumultuous childhood.
    • To show how big a difference Makoto's street smarts make in this story, consider this: despite not having centuries' worth of experience in worldly affairs, Makoto has come closer than Rachel Alucard herself to knowingly decimating Terumi's plans for Noel in Arcade Mode, and is so far the only character period to irreparably derail his plans altogether in any Story Mode. And as a result of Slight Hope and Friendship, whereas Yuuki Terumi will troll or torture anyone he comes across, even in Chronophantasma you can count the seconds he and Makoto are in the same area before he makes an attempt on her life.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Haley is generally the most Street Smart member of the Order. Roy wouldn't be so bad, if it weren't for his abysmal lack of a Sense Motive.
    • On the villain's side, Xykon is far more Street Smart than Redcloak, which is one of the reasons the power dynamic goes the way it does even though Redcloak is in all other respects the smarter of the two.
      • This is a reference to a feature of D&D. Clerics and Wizards can 'know' as many spells as they like but have to prepare the ones they'll use a day in advance, making them strategic thinkers by default. Sorcerers only 'know' a few spells, but can cast them more often and without deciding how many of each in advance, giving them a tendency to use spells in creative/unorthodox ways and brute force problems more often than other casters.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Sokka has an inclination for street smarts that is honed over time.
    • Toph is also very Street Smart.
    • And Azula dangerously so.


Simple-Minded WisdomTropes of WisdomTaught by Experience
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