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Wrong Side of the Tracks
"Let me guess, this is where the poor people live."
Most economies in the modern world run on some form of capitalism. There exists, in these economies, ways for people to get rich, or at least make a comfortable income. But not everyone.
Welcome to The Wrong Side Of The Tracks. Crippling poverty is a day-to-day fact for people living in this type of neighborhood, often leading to both an increase in crime and the residents requiring aid from the government to meet their financial needs. Many residents are homeless or close to it, and work is difficult to find.
The phrase comes from the first railroads rolling into cities, since land is expensive, the railroad would buy the cheapest land in industrial areas or on the border, since the most money is to be made in shipping goods. But this can cause residential development to occur near the train station as it allowed people to commute by train, but the residential properties are not in the industrial area, but on the other side of the tracks.
So the wrong
side is the industrial, cheap land area.
This development may be unintentional, as urban development can cause this area to become poverty-stricken; or intentional, as people are forced to live in these areas by ethnic segregation
Due to difficulty in securing income legally, residents may turn to less-than-legal methods of acquiring money by way of theft or sale of illegal goods and services
This trope can be seen in three major classes:
This area usually springs up around rapid industrialization of an urban area. Those who work in the factories usually live in this area, barely getting by on a meager living. Deaths from disease and poor working conditions are common, leaving many children without parental support forced to live on the streets, or end up in an Orphanage of Fear
with no government regulation. The poor here have the choice of either living on the street or working in workhouses. This variant makes this entire trope Older Than Steam
This variant has similar origins to the Industrial Slum, but is usually promoted by businesses leaving the area and taking their business with them due to the already-existing conditions. Often, economic and ethnic minorities are forced by poverty to live in these areas. Individuals living here are often more likely to receive government aid. Crime often runs rampant, usually in the form of burglary, drug sale, robbery, prostitution and gang-related violence. Often plays host to broken homes, runaway children, alcoholism and violence. Nearly always has an Inner City School
This variant is enforced by law. Certain individuals, such as those of a certain social group (i.e. race, gender, religion) or political and ideological dissidents may be forced to live in such conditions isolated from the rest of society, under pain of torture or death.
Home of many Gang Bangers
. See also City Noir
for a citywide mood, The City Narrows
for a fully criminal subdistrict, and Wretched Hive
for near-total lawlessness. If there's an inspirational underdog story about a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits
who want to go to a sports meet, they have to make do with Improvised Training
. If this place is filled with Fantastic Races,
its a Fantastic Ghetto
. It is possible that it is a Close-Knit Community
, where the characters support each other against their problems.
Be mindful of any Real Life examples. Just because an area has a large number of minorities, it does not mean it applies to this trope. Unfortunate Implications
, okay? Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds takes place in Satellite, a blending of the Modern Ghetto type with the ghettos of Nazi Germany.
- A very literal example in Code Geass, where Zero takes his minions-to-be on a train ride through Tokyo and asks Kallen what she sees out of the windows to her right: "A city of the Britannians. A city of robbers which stands because of our sacrifices." And to her left? "Our city. The husk of a city which was sucked dry by the Britannians." Areas like Saitama and Shinjuku deal with all the problems of any modern ghetto on top of the occasional genocidal purge when The Empire needs to find someone.
- Fabiola Iglesias from Black Lagoon was born and raised in the barrios of Caracas, Venezuela. In the 2nd episode of the 3rd season, we get an aerial view of Caracas that is very similar to the Code Geass example: a clean, modern city and an overcrowded massive slum are divided by a highway between them.
- Kaze no Yojimbo take place in a town with an old red brick house side and a side with more modern white houses.
- Area 88: In manga issues that didn't make it stateside, we learn that Gary "Mac" Macburn grew up in poverty and squalor in Harlem.
- Taken to extremes in Give Me Liberty, where the Chicago housing project of Cabrini-Green is walled in and turned into a virtual prison for the residents.
- Pick a Charles Dickens novel. Nearly any Charles Dickens novel.
- The most outstanding example is the neighborhood in which Oliver Twist is set.
- The Prince and the Pauper
- Up The Down Staircase
- None But the Lonely Heart
- Both Peaches and Mickey live in such in Gene Stratton Porter's Michael O'Hallorean, though Mickey concedes, when Peaches lives with him:
"If this is slum kids, I like it!" protested Peaches.
"Well, Sunrise Alley ain't so slummy as where you was, Lily," explained the boy.
- District 12's Seam in The Hunger Games
- Self-Made Man Gail Wynand of The Fountainhead was born in Hell's Kitchen.
- In Discworld, the city of Ankh-Morpork is actually a double one, consisting of "Proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork", separated by the River Ankh. Even within Morpork though there is the Wretched Hive of the Shades.
- The Tenderloin of San Francisco is treated this way in Little Brother.
- The Rookeries are the poorest, but also the largest and most important district of the Colony in Tunnels.
- The Barnaby Grimes series has the Wasp's Nest, an impoverished, crime-ridden district of the city that all Tick-Tock Lads try to avoid as much as possible. The East Bank is even worse.
- Lincoln Heights is supposed to the a bad neighborhood; in fact the show spends an entire season telling the viewers how bad it is. But when you look at the neighborhoods it turns out that it's not as bad as we're led to believe. The 2 story, 3 bedroom house that the Suttons live in is HUGE, and perfectly suitable for a middle class family living in Los Angeles, CA. The main problem is the inner city gangs, which could be controlled by better policing by the Lincoln Heights police as opposed to their lackadaisical approach to policing in that area.
- The Wire's main setting is the slums of Baltimore.
- Santana from Glee claims to be from Lima Heights Adjacent, which apparently is this trope (she even uses the term "on the wrong side of the tracks"), although she also claims that her father is a doctor...
- It doesn't help that Lima Heights Adjacent does not exist in real life, when other Ohio towns—even those that were only mentioned once—have real world counterparts.
- A recurring theme in Boy Meets World, where Cory's parents, while not rich, are middle-class, responsible, decently-educated, and living in a good neighborhood, whereas his best friend Shawn's parents are dysfunctional, shiftless, neglectful, penniless white trash who live in a violent and sleazy trailer park. The contrast and disconnect between how Cory and Shawn view life is the subject of many episodes, and Shawn has had to deal with issues of classism from his classmates due to his poverty and family reputation on occasion.
- Named-dropped in Scrubs to describe the Chicago neighborhood Carla grew up in.
- Both versions of Shameless use these places as the setting.
- Downbelow in Babylon 5 - the place where everyone without somewhere nicer to go, goes. It mostly exists because they didn't have time to finish the station before they had need of it. Played for a mixture of horror and comedy in one episode, where Ivanova has to negotiate with an unusually assholish alien from a race that believes in segregating the genetically unworthy...and thinks Downbelow is a brilliant solution to the problem, going so far as to suggest it officially become part of his own race's law. Ivanova is troubled by this turn of events, to say the least.
- Hip-hop and rap originally got their start in poorer inner city areas. Many artists themselves if we are to believe their music as truth.
- A lot are, especially back in the day.
- Similarly, punk originated in the poorer areas of London and New York during The Seventies.
- Brazilian Baile Funk is a contemporary music from the ghettos. Many musician perform free gigs in the Barrio, and the next night, at a club on the other side of the tracks, now charging for tickets.
- True to its name, Blues also began as the music of the poor and miserable.
- "Rag Doll" by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The girl is from the wrong side of the tracks. The boy loves her anyway.
- "Dawn" by Frankie Valli and The Four seasons: The boy is from the wrong side of the tracks; he tells the girl to stay with the other boy. Frankly, the song is drowning in Wangst bordering on brain-bleeding territory — the hottest/nicest/most generally awesome girl in town wants him and he's turning her down because she's rich? Or maybe he's just a Jerk Ass with self-esteem issues.
- "Tobacco Road" by Tommy Cash
- "Down in the Boondocks" by Billy Joe Royal
- "In The Ghetto" by Elvis Presley
- "Hallowed Ground" by Erasure
- "Trenchtown Rock" by Bob Marley
- "Poor Side of Town" by Johnny Rivers
- "Leader Of The Pack" by The Shangri-Las ("My parents said he came from the wrong side of town...")
- Seymour's neighborhood in Little Shop of Horrors is Skid Row.
- Death of a Salesman
- RENT takes place in Aphabet City, a neighbourhood in New York's Lower East Side. A noteworthy depiction, since it portrays people existing in poverty due to economic and social conditions living alongside those who live in poverty due to their unconventional and unprosperous lifestyle choice, with a certain amount of antagonism between the two.
- The slums of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII.
- The Wrong Side of the Tracks on Kingdom of Loathing. It's immediately across the tracks (Which have no trains and don't lead anywhere) from the Right Side of the Tracks.
- In Ragnarok Online, in Lighthaltzen, there is a literally wrong side of the tracks, with crappy slums, corporate guards and other suspicious things.
- The entirety of Clint City from Urban Rivals.
- Dragon Age: Origins has Dust Town, the home of the casteless dwarves, in the dwarven city of Orzammar. Practically enforced by Orzammar's rigid caste system.
- The elven alienage in Denerim also counts. It is isolated from the rest of the city and consists largely of run-down buildings.
- In Dragon Age II, Lowtown qualifies as the Wrong Side of the Tracks, being the former slave quarter of the city. As a refugee from Ferelden, this is where the main character is living at the start of Act 1. Darktown — the city's labyrinthine sewer system — might also qualify, but it's closer to being a Wretched Hive.
- Rapture has at least two: Apollo Square, in the first game, is notable for having housed Fontaine's Home for the Poor, which became Atlas's base of operations later on. Pauper's Drop, in the second, was never even meant to be a part of the city; it was a series of flophouses built underneath the proposed railway for its work crew. It started falling apart even faster than the rest of the city, and by the time you arrive is home to, among other fun places of interest, a train car that apparently fell in through the roof. As Augustus Sinclair observes, "There ain't a side of the tracks more wrong than under 'em." Bonus points for featuring a literal "Skid Row" as one of its sections, though it's hard to say how that part is more of a Skid Row than the rest of it.
- The city of Rogueport in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door would qualify. The place is filled with thieves and bandits, and is considered the lowest of the low in terms of living conditions. Of course, the west side of town is noticeably cleaner and less run-down, but that's probably due to the fact that the west side is run by a wealthy mafia and the east side of Rogueport is run by a not-so-wealthy gang.
- Flopside in Super Paper Mario could fall under this category too. It's supposed to be the "dark" counterpart of Flipside, so while Flipside is bright and clean with happy residents, Flopside has a darker color scheme and dilapidated buildings and morbidly depressing locals.
- Blue Skies Industrial Park in Bully, where all the dropouts from Bullworth Academy end up.
- The lower sections of the Hierarchical Cities in BlazBlue albeit it has a minor justification — seithr, a poisonous gas/Mana is denser the lower you are to sea level so the richer citizens live in the higher, cleaner sectors while the poor live in the areas closer to pollution. The NOL who run the world have their bases at the peaks of mountains the Hierarchical Cities are established on.
- In Worm, prior to the Extermination arc, the city was relatively evenly divided between the prosperous and tourist-friendly Boardwalk and the ghettos of the Docks.
- A number of The Simpsons episodes have featured the Wrong Side of the Tracks district in Springfield.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se.
- Played for laughs in South Park; the town is so small that Kenny is able to live on the wrong side of the tracks and still be next-door neighbors with the other boys.
- Seen in the episode "Chickenpox", where the boys literally cross train tracks to get to Kenny's house.
- The Fairly OddParents: In "The Big Scoop", a literal set of tracks serves as a boundary line between the trailer park where Chester Mc Badbat resides and the land where Chester's well-off friend A.J.'s home is located.
- Hell's Kitchen in New York, where West Side Story was set and filmed, used to be considered dangerous.
- There is an actual neighborhood literally called "Skid Row", the "Meatpacking District", and/or "Tenderloin" in various cities in the U.S. Such older downtown business areas are prone to general poverty, neglect and homelessness more than out-and-out crime and violence. Ironically, Times Square, which borders on Hells Kitchen, and "The Bowery" in downtown Manhattan used to be the Ur Example of such shuttered small-business districts.
- American neighborhoods such as Compton (California) and parts of the Bronx (New York).
- Five Points in New York used to be this, The City Narrows, and a Wretched Hive.
- Shanty towns in the Caribbean islands.
- Barrios and the legendary Favelas of Brazil.
- Caserios in Puerto Rico.
- In the 20th century Russia was hit with an urbanization like with 2x4, jumping from a 90% rural to 80% urban in just a 50 years or so. During the rapid industrialization of The Thirties a lot of communities arose around the enormous factories often built in the middle of nowhere or on the outskirts of the existing cities, essentially becoming company towns. Populated mainly by the former peasants torn out of their traditional way of life, these quickly became almost classical Industrial Slums, full of rowdy working youths, Gang Bangers (often the very same youths), drunks, etc. When the Soviet Union caved in, some of these "monotowns" and working discticts, those whose plant of factory didn't fare all that well, became Modern Ghettos, with the poverty and unemployment galore, while those that fared better got even slummier, especially with the influx of cheap immigrant labor.
- In the early twentieth century, the Canadian city of Winnipeg had a district full of poor immigrants that was actually separated from the rest of the city by the train tracks.
- This is sadly still literally true in many old-fashioned Southern towns, e.g. Memphis, albeit with quaint results (e.g. a fancy golf course guarded by rottweilers directly across the railroad tracks from an Afrocentric bookstore!)
- Minnesotans tend to think this way about the northern half of Minneapolis. Technically, there are no tracks involved - the light rail doesn't go past Target Field for a reason.
- The Kowloon Walled City had fame as a Wretched Hive, but actually was more like this. Specially from the mid-Seventies on, when there was a tacit agreement between the mainland authorities (to whom the area ostensibly belonged) and the British, that allowed British police to operate within the Walled City. This radically brought down the crime activity and increased the quality of life, as the utilities could come there as well. (Besides, The Triads and the Tongs considered the place a sort-of base and not a feeding ground, so it wasn't exactly in their interests to cause mayhem.)
- East Cleveland, a suburb of Cleveland that has possibly the worst crime in Ohio. Granted, it's hard to find the right side of the tracks in Cleveland nowadays, but East Cleveland has long been notorious for being the worst hellhole in the area.
- Baltimore, Maryland has a very distinctive difference between the beautiful Inner Harbor (tourist district) and the areas surrounding it.
- Oakland, California is considered this to San Francisco. However, most of what fits the bill is the southeast end called "East Oakland". Only the airport and Coliseum aren't considered dangerous.
- San Francisco has a seedy,former military neighborhood called Hunters Point, which has one of the highest murder rates in the state and maybe even nation.
- Detroit is what happens when an entire city becomes this.
- In the area, anything south of 8 Mile Road(where Detroit begins) is considered this.
- In fact, the difference is so distinct that one could drive north from a road in Detroit and go from a post-apocalyptic slum to a forested Arcadia with palatial houses in thirty minutes.
- Specifically, driving north would get you from slums before 8 Mile Road, then going to inner(though old and slightly ill-maintained) suburbs after 8 Mile, better maintained inner suburbs after 12 Mile, larger, much newer suburban houses after Hall Road(20 Mile), and Mc Mansions, country estates, or just farmland after 24 Mile.
- The squatters/informal settlers' slums found in Manila, Philippines are particularly infamous among Filipinos. They're partly the result of haphazard reconstruction efforts following World War II, poverty and the mass influx of arrivals from the provinces in the intervening decades (which in turn contributed to the large population growth of the metropolis).
- In the greater Boston area, you've got Roxbury, and the neighborhood of Mission Hill, so much so that one of the most infamous murder cases in Boston's history not only took place there, but was deliberately committed there because of the area's reputation.
- Parts of London's East End are considered to be on the wrong side, such as Hackney.
- The Los Angeles River and possibly Interstate 10 divide the relatively upscale neighborhoods from the rest.
- The island of Oahu in Hawaii has Kalihi, Waipahu, and the entire Waianae Coast (anywhere past Ko Olina). To name a few.