Every town in the multiverse has a part that is something like Ankh-Morpork's Shades. It's usually the oldest part, its lanes faithfully following the original tracks of medieval cows going down to the river, and they have names like the Shambles, the Rookery, Sniggs Alley... Most of Ankh-Morpork is like that in any case. But the Shades is even more so, a sort of black hole of bred-in-the-brickwork lawlessness. Put it like this - even the criminals were afraid to walk the streets. The Watch didn't set foot in it.
In the setting of a large sprawling Metropolis, there is always a certain spot that contains the dark side of city life. It will be the place where the police rarely tread and where those who attend to certain unsavory professions rely on their own methods of protection. It will have its own nickname from the locals, it may even be marked out on the official map. Its level of actual malice may vary; it could be a place where the protagonist is in constant danger for each moment that they spend in this dark corner or it could be a rather lively area with an active Black Market that forms an actual market and gamblers, whorers and dealers collect for decadent revelry. The latter is more common when The City Narrows are the Not-So-Safe Harbor district and are thus filled with pirates' and sailors' entertainment in levels that would make Frank Miller blush.
It will also manage to be made entirely of back alleys that seem to only back onto more back alleys. It is basically the back alley of the entire city which is what distinguishes it from the Wretched Hive: the Wretched Hive is an entire locale of crime and vice but The City Narrows is the subsection of the city that you can accidentally wander into from the nice side, if you walk too far along the Wrong Side of the Tracks (however, as in the above example of Ankh Morpork, a Wretched Hive may have a Narrows area if the subsection manages to be even worse than the rest). So you can expect plenty of "What's a nice girl like you doing here then?"
A subtrope of Wretched Hive and Wrong Side of the Tracks. It is Truth in Television to a degree; that degree being how much you can tell the inhabitants of a real life version of this trope that they live in their city's arse end and not be given a Glasgow Grin.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
The Walled City in Witch Hunter Robin, presumably taking its name from the real world Kowloon Walled City that was used in the Bourne series below.
The Gray Terminal, a literal compost heap, which lies right next door to the capital City of Goa on Luffy's hometown island of Dawn Island in One Piece.
Even as scary as Sin City is, The Projects are even scarier. Also, while it's technically outside the city limits, The Farm is a place that both cops and criminals try to avoid. It's been rumored to be haunted.
Either the entire City of Detroit, Michigan, or the bar located on the Barbary Coast in Airplane! which was so bad it was "worse than Detroit," depending on which way you want to take it.
The Shades of Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld. A classic example: the cops don't go there at all (except for the werewolf), the Seamstresses' Guild keep their girls safe with a couple of ... people and each time a major character enters it's basically just a countdown for their first Random Encounter.
Even the MILITARY doesn't go there. During Night Watch, while the cavalry try and navigate in the city, Vimes jokes about the Shades, saying that the narrow streets would make it so that the cavalry wouldn't be able to dismount... if it weren't for the fact that their horses would be killed and eaten out from under them.
According to The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide "the vigilance of the City Watch has rendered this part of Ankh-Morpork far less exciting to walk around than previously", and the criminals even respect Thieves Guild protection, which they didn't in earlier books. It's still noted for traditional street cries like "No, no, no, please, no!", though.
The underlevels of Coruscant in Star Wars' prequel trilogy and extended universe. The planet is one huge city, so overdeveloped that the lower levels barely ever, often never, see natural sunlight. This drives the property values down and attracts the wrong sort of character (though Palpatine probably tried to shift the blame on non-human immigrants). The X-Wing Series has Gavin Darklighter from Tatooine going to the underlevels of Coruscant and thinking that "if Mos Eisely was considered the armpit of the galaxy, this part of Coruscant could be considered anatomically lower and decidedly less hygienic."
By contrast the lower levels of Nar Shadda (The "Smuggler's Moon") are a sort of inversion. They're considered safer than the higher levels because everyone walks around armed and no one has anything worth stealing.
Several of Andre Norton's science fiction novels (such as Judgement on Janus, Catseye and Forerunner Foray) have The Dipple, a refugee camp in the planet Korwar's capital city of Tikil. The character who were born there always escape because there is no Happy Ending while you are in it.
Shan Lantee of Storm Over Warlock also escaped from heavily criminal slums, the Dumps of Tyr.
Thieves' World, the shared world fantasy series created by Robert Lynn Asprin, has the Maze in the city of Sanctuary.
In the second novel of The Bourne Series the infamous Walled City of Kowloon plays a major part as a setting and it's wretchedness and the wretchedness of Bourne's old life reflect each other.
In The Wheel of Time, while the west side of the Eldar in Ebou Dar is relatively safe, wandering in the Rahad on the east side in rich clothes is equivalent to suicide. Unless you have a Wise Woman with you.
In the Vorkosigan Saga, the Caravanserai in Vorbarr-Sultana long was this trope, until getting cleaned up during and after Aral Vorkosigan's tenure as a Prince-Regent and Prime Minister.
Such districts pop up in several Honor Harrington novels, despite much of it concentration on a society's upper layers, like the above example.
Old City in Chicago is a notorious slum which generally corresponds to both flavors of the trope. The Loop is still a lively bohemian area (where you should pay close attention to your wallet's whereabouts though), and even a Soldier Field isn't that bad, but the lower levels are overrun with the murderous hoodlums, junkies and occasional rogue Super Soldier.
The novel A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison is set in a fictionalized version of the the Old Nichol district of Victorian London.
In George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran series, the Budayeen is a cross between this and a Red Light District. Tourists who ignore the warnings and decide they want to sample the delights offered by the Budayeen often leave in a body bag.
Barnaby Grimes has the Gatling Quays, which are the least pleasant district in the city, and in a permanent state of warfare between twelve gangs who effectively control the area.
In A Clockwork Orange, Alex lives in the type of place where seeing ten-year-olds raped in the streets is uninteresting and people over thirty don't open their doors after dark, but there seem to be quieter areas where it's actually unusual for Alex to break through the door to bash your head in. That isn't to say the whole city isn't a Wretched Hive - just that Alex lives in an even worse subsection of it. Which explains a lot, actually.
Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil has parts of the major city where Johann lives that are referred to as an "Abandoned Area" that are so bad that even the police won't go into them with less than a squad, because smaller numbers might never come back, and they are basically areas with no police protection at all, the criminals feed on each other Kilkenny Cats style.
Live Action TV
Brown Sector, commonly referred to as Downbelow, on Babylon 5 is where those who came to the station for a better life but failed to make it tend to wind up when they lack the funds to return home or go elsewhere. It is also a favored hiding spot for various fugitives or covert operatives.
In Doctor Who, the New New York Undercity in the episode "Gridlock," complete with vendors selling mood-altering substance patches.
Played with in the third season of The Wire. Hamsterdam (a legalized drug zone, with all of the unpleasantness you'd think that implies, and a bit more) is made as far away as possible with it still being accessible to street dealers. It's still not far enough so that and old lady doesn't live there, or for the press not to notice.
The Court of Miracles in The Musketeers, which is ruled by the King of Thieves. So called because when lame and blind beggers return to the Court, they're "miraculously" cured. The Cour de Miracles was a real area in Paris named for that reason, although the series probably exaggerates it a bit.
The song "Bad Bad Leroy Brown," by Jim Croce describes the south side of Chicago as such. Specifically, it's "The baddest part of town."
Finnish song "Katupoikien laulu" (Song of Street Kids), which happens "kätkössä Sörkan laitakatujen" (in the shadows of the side streets of Sörkka). "Sörkka", the district Sörnäinen in Helsinki, Finland used to have a sinister reputation in the past. Today it is on its way to gentrification.
Shadowrun: The Redmond Barrens of Seattle, which even have a mall that is one gigantic black market.
And the Aurora Warrens in Denver. Nominally part of the UCAS, but in practice a kind of international no-man's land of undesirables. Largely equivalent to the Barrens.
Traveller: many Starports have a "Startown", typically at the area where the Imperial government's jurisdiction ends and the Planetary one begins.
Ptolus has the Barrens, a lawless slum that even the major crime syndicates leave alone because it's too unruly and has nothing worth stealing or controlling. The Undercity Market is an aversion: it's Beneath the Earth and full of adventurers, but it's mostly for resupplying, and it's successful enough that it has a burgeoning residential area as well—and being full of heavily-armed adventurers is actually pretty good for keeping things relatively civil and orderly.
Eberron: Sharn has a fair chunk of the Lower Wards and most of the Depths, with particular attention paid to the Cogs (which double as an industrial sector) and Lower Dura.
The lower you go in a hive city in Warhammer 40K, the more it resembles this trope. The lowest levels are home to those even the basest dregs of society don't want such as mutants and rogue psykers.
The crumbling slums of Meiyerditch in Runescape are so labyrinthine that they actually form a mini-Agility obstacle course for players. Expect to see pale, emaciated humans cowering in back alleys, fearful of the Vyrewatch who are raising them like cattle for blood tithes - the player also stands a chance of being tithed if they spend too much time outside with a Vyrewatch nearby.
The Slums district of Amn in Baldur's Gate II, home base of the Thieves' Guild, full of beggars and yet if you try to rest your party on the streets, the city guard will never fail to stop you.
The village in Quest for Glory I has a single alley not fully protected against violence by Erana's spell. During the daytime, it's safe and a beggar spends his time there. At night, however... Unfortunately, where you stand, Erana's spell is still active.
The back alley, a section of the docks (which is pretty bad in itself) of the city of Neverwinter in Neverwinter Nights 2 also the beggars nest from the first game.
The favela in Modern Warfare 2 in Rio. There's literally an entire army of heavily-armed Brazilian criminals there who do not take well to outsiders. You know you're in a bad place when the only viable way to enter the area and locate the one criminal you're trying to find is to walk in shooting a weapon in the air so you can draw the militia out for a straight fight instead of trying to sneak through and get surrounded.
In Dragon Age: Origins, Dust Town in Orzammar is regarded as a breeding ground for Casteless, criminals and the outcast members of Dwarven society. There may be a King on the throne of Orzammar, but in Dust Town, it is the Carta that rules with an iron fist.
The Darktown district of Kirkwall is said to be this in Dragon Age II. In practice, however, Hawke will find the other districts much more dangerous, especially at night, since all the muggers, bandits, and blood magic cults hang out in them.
In Mass Effect, the worst parts of the Lower Wards are implied to be like this.
In addition, the shiny and modern Illium is indicated to have more than a few such places, being described as Omega with more expensive shoes.
In The Gamers Alliance, Threshold, Alent's northeastern district, has an ominous reputation and has driven many people who have ventured there insane. The very air, ground, buildings and narrow, labyrinthine and twisting alleys seem to be alive and hostile to any non-native, and the shadows play with trespassers' minds with sometimes fatal consequences. It later turns out that the people living in Threshold are in fact disguised demons whose chaotic powers have warped the district to suit their needs. The horrible experiences which trespassers had turned out to be manifestations of their own inner darkness and emotions which were triggered by the demonic auras in the area.
Javan: The truth is that the only real darkness in this place is the darkness you bring in it yourself. Every sin, every repressed memory, every stray fear and blind rage. Everything people want to ignore about themselves. What's in here was always there, it's just a bit more... insistent in its existence in Threshold.
The Rape Tunnel. "It actually has it's advantages. Criminals are too afraid to come into the rape tunnel neighborhood, so we're actually pretty secure here."
Ronin Galaxy, Cecil explains at the beginning of chapter two that the Moritomi Complex seems like an average city until you enter a suspiciously dark alley. Then it turns into a feudal Japanese red-light district.
In Tales of the Questor, they have their capital city, Sanctuary—- and the "suburb" commonly known as the Tumbledowns, a multi-story shantytown filled with street gangs and other dregs of society....
Candi Levens has to rescue Maria Sanmarcos from a part of Dirbine where a lot of really bad stuff seems to happen disproportionately. It's a mess of brick buildings many of which do not have clearly-defined reasons to exist.
Inverted in a lot of real-world cities, where the fact that you can buy old houses extremely cheap makes them prime locations for gentrification. For example, The Lanes in Brighton, a warren of winding roads and crooked houses that is the remnants of the original fishing village, is nowadays full of ridiculously expensive boutiques and restaurants.
Hitrovka in Imperial-era Moscow. Overlaps with Outlaw Town, since it was an area which was a "safe haven" of sorts for gangsters, escaped convicts and the like. Ironically, it sat right between the bustling Kitai-Gorod business district and several affluent residential neigborhoods in the downtown area, whose inhabitants had to see (and smell) its unsavory character every day, but nobody could do anything about it, so much was the influence of the landowners, who reaped enormous profits from the area. The district was purged clean by Bolsheviks after Red October.
Now it's Southern Butovo, Tekstilschiki and the Southeastern borough in general, and the entire suburb of Mytischi. (The most crime-ridden district, Golyanovo, has the crime rate but lacks the reputation). Though usually the worst you could expect is to be separated from your cash and cellphone. Lethal muggings are much rarer than they were back then.
Now there's a popular theory exists that Khitrovka's reputation of a criminal hell-hole was artificially inflated by the leading journalists of the time, such as Vladimir Gilyarovsky, because, well, criminal stories simply sold better. In reality it was something like Kowloon below — a simple dirt-poor neighborhood where some criminals had set their shop. Another point is that Gilyarosky was a Communist and had used a quarter's reputation (that he himself helped to build) to criticize the Tsarist Government.
Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong (now a handsome park).
Kowloon situation was much more complex. While its hard to deny that Triads and Tongs had definitely set shop there, they tended to watch their step, and most of the district's population were simply poor people trying to scrape by. Most of the Walled City's problems stemmed from its weird legal status (theoretically it was a Mainland China enclave within the Hong Kong territory, which prevented the city's utilities and police from operating there), and the fact that it was situated under the approaches to the city's Kai Tak airport, so no highrises could be built there, and people tried to use the available space as efficently as they could. In the end of its life, when agreement with the mainland authorities permitted Hong Kong's services to operate inside the Walled City, the situation there markedly improved, but its reputation was already set in stone and in 1993 it was finally demolished.
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, although it's known just as much for its sheer poverty (combined with copious drug addictions) as for being dangerous. This is where serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton did his hunting, and as such has a reputation for women (especially prostitutes) just... vanishing.
International Boulevard in Oakland, CA, used to be called East 14th Street until the city changed the name as part of an effort to change its image. It hasn't really worked.
Several parts of London have been this at various points in its history - Southwark of 500 years ago was famous for its brothels (licensed by the local bishop!) and St. Giles was the place the police would only go en masse.
The poorest neighbourhoods in Mexico City like "Tepito" tend to be this. These places are where most muggings and drug-lord firefights take place. If you ever come to visit, stay close to downtown and never be outside late at night.
Skid Road, in central Seattle, was such a place in the early 20th century - the proverbial "Skid Row" having derived from its name. (The neighborhood has since been gentrified and redubbed "Pioneer Square", though it's still not the sort of area one feels comfortable walking around in after dark.)
The Five Points in 19th-Century New York.
Becomes a Nonindicative Name in the case of the Real Life Narrows, which is a tidal strait separating Brooklyn from Staten Island; similarly, the nearby neighborhoods of Bay Ridge (Brooklyn) and Shore Acres (Staten Island) are quite nice middle-class neighborhoods of stand-alone houses.
North Minneapolis, nicknamed Murderapolis.
Bunker Hill was this during the golden age of Los Angeles (abt. 1917-1963). Not even South Central comes close today.
The outer half of the VIII. district of Budapest, Hungary. It's suspiciously similar to a jungle - a machete greatly increases your chances to survive.
The North Praga district of Warsaw, Poland. There's even an old saying "Jedziesz na Pragie, to weź pan lagie" ("If yer goin' to Praga, get a big stick, guv."). Before World War II, Wola was this as well, but it slowly gentrified over the years.
Chinatown in Boston was this up until recently. At the time (the 1960s-1970s), Chinatown adjoined Boston's Combat Zone, home to porno theaters and prostitutes. It was literally only one block from the Boston Common, the park at the heart of the city. Rising property values, the ability to watch porn at home, and the fact that the Chinese got sick of the bad reputation the area had, all led to its demise. It's now a perfectly nice light-commercial area for the most part, but there are still certain areas that are known for prostitution and drug sales, and some of the scuzzier curio shops and Asian markets still live up to the "if you want it, you can probably find it for sale here" reputation that Chinatown has never quite managed to shake off.
The "SWATS" (or Zone 4) in Southwest Atlanta, Georgia, so called because it's in Southwest Atlanta, or because the SWAT team is always there. Quite a few rappers are from there, including T.I. and Big Boi.
"Several parts of Honolulu in Magnum, P.I." up above? The most notorious of these several parts, at least until a wave of clean ups in the early 2000s, was Hotel Street in Chinatown. Long a red-light district catering to certain... desires... of sailors from neighboring Pearl Harbor, the area became very run down and was controlled by the Tongs and other organized crime syndicates, and it was not a place you went to at night if you valued your life, and it was a wise man who avoided it during the day as well. The area has, however, undergone a revitalization that has — mostly — reclaimed the area for decent society.
East Orange, NJ is a rough place in general, being a former industrial hotbed that later went the way of so many other cities of that sort. Even then, however, a good deal of it isn't too bad if you have some basic street smarts and don't act like you're scared out of your wits. The closer you get to Newark, however, the nastier things get, progressing from "rough" to "lock your doors and don't look at anyone" and all the way to "not even the locals dare tread here, and if you do, all bets are off on how screwed you are".
Certain neighbourhoods of New York City are this. Specifically, the South Bronx and East New York are known for being extremely dangerous.
North Milwaukee has this reputation, though it could be reasonably argued that its reputation is due to the local media focusing so heavily on a small handful of neighborhoods where this is the case at the expense of many perfectly safe areas
North-Northwest mostly. The North East side is very yuppie, especially the Northshore suburbs. State Street and North Avenue are very dangerous, though
Being the hometown of the Violent Glaswegian, Glasgow naturally has several. Historically, Maryhill and Ruchill were this, but they have vastly improved in recent years. The most notable ones these days are Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Possilpark and Shettleston. Shettleston is notable for having a lower life expectancy than North Korea.
Oak Cliff and the rampant crime within was one of many reasons Dallas, Texas earned the "Murder Capital of the U.S." several times before a concentrated enforcement effort cleaned up the crime considerably. It's still rather wise to avoid Oak Cliff and some parts of Deep Ellum at night.
Most of New Orleans counted as this before Katrina hit, but especially the huge Housing Projects, areas so dangerous, even the police wouldn't go there unless they were tugging along a SWAT team. After Katrina, it isn't so bad, but it isn't exactly better either.
The Paris metropolitan area encompasses a number of peripheral towns colloquially known as the "9-3", home of crumbling Cold War-era housing projects, multi-ethnic populations, massive unemployment, drug traffic, gang violence, riots. Some quarters of Marseille have also had a steamy reputation since the Middle Ages.
Munich has a few districts traditionally known as the city's narrows. The oldest is the Au ("Valley") on the eastern banks of the river, which was traditionally a piss-poor workers' community with many two-storey houses (a rarity in Munich's mostly-five-storey centre). But in the last few decades, it has slowly transformed into a popular artsy neighbourhood not unlike Soho, with cosmic property prices thanks to the many charming old houses. The Au's most outstanding feature however has always been - and still is - a relic of its more infamous times - the Auer Dult, an annual junk market and Catholic fair - one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
Then there also is a much more contemporary district with that reputation (commonly referred to as a 'Glasscherbenviertel' - a 'glass shard quarter'), the Hasenbergl ("Hares' Hillock") in the generally poor northern Munich area, which had a very popular poor and immigrant criminal subculture (for one, many Germanpolice proceduralsloved the area) until the end of the last century. But nowadays, it's also well on its way to gentrification - present-day Munich has the lowest crime statistics of any major German municipality.