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Street Smart

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"I was raised in the slums. I'm used to danger."
Aerith, just letting you know she's no typical demure White Magician Girl, Final Fantasy VII

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 - at the same time, they are not irrationally suspicious, and know when to believe someone and/or accept that they are getting the full story. The talent for deception also tends to work both ways, and the character can be quick with a convincing bluff or misdirection.
  • Ability to determine who needs to know what, and how to convincingly word things when there is a need to misdirect, obfuscate, or deceive others or throw someone off when they've started to catch on.
  • Ability to think on the fly and to improvise. The Indy Ploy is made of this, as is MacGyvering.
  • Ability to anticipate and plan for variables, and the knowledge of what to prioritize.
  • 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". Brains Versus Brawn has evolved over time to now include such a variation of the traditional contrast. 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 and the Cop of any Cop and Scientist duo. The Cowboy Cop tends to trust and respect this character completely, making them their key (if not only) ally.

Street Stupid characters may fall under the heading of Country Mouse, No Social Skills and/or Fish out of Water. If they're Book Smart on top of it, they may be a Ditzy Genius.

Compare Wisdom from the Gutter. Not to be confused with Street Smarts, a game show from the early 2000s, or the film, which earned Morgan Freeman his first Academy Award nomination.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Book 
  • 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.
  • Played straight by John Constantine in Hellblazer. Being one of his most useful and formidable skill, John acquired it through years of tragedy walking the beat in London, England, to the point that he rather uses it more than he use his magic or brawns. He managed to play the Archangel Gabriel into his hands with the use of a succubus prostitute.

    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin. Although he does make some notoriously poor judgment calls in almost every other area imaginable, his survival instinct, and 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.
  • Lady and the Tramp: Tramp, obviously. He introduced Lady to how dogs without humans live.
  • Dodger and his gang in Oliver & Company.
  • Brother Bear: Koda, as young as he is, certainly knows his way around the forest, and teaches Kenai how to be a bear.
  • The Lion King: Although Pumbaa is the more intellectual of the duo, Timon is noticeably savvier; that's why he's the leader.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Vincent's girlfriend Carmen in The Color of Money is a lot more world-savvy 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.
  • In The Day After Tomorrow, New York has turned freezing cold due to climate change and power failure. Using his wisdom from years on the street, a homeless man teaches a rich boy how to use paper to insulate himself from the cold.
  • Vito Corleone from The Godfather. Despite the fact that he was someone who lived in Perpetual Poverty and created a vast criminal enterprise with limited resources, he managed to be incredibly smart, cunning, compelling, and very good at reading and dealing with people. The fact that he has highly developed emotional intelligence certainly helps.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: Funnily enough, Josh Valentine, of all people, stands out amongst Team Godzilla for showing shades of this. Despite his nerdy and timid appearance, Josh is person-savvy enough to know precisely how to get Bernie's whereabouts from a store clerk when Madison was struggling to get what they were after, he's good at Cutting the Knot on the fly (this trait of his narrowly derails a Ghidorah-possessed Mechagodzilla's near-certain victory at a time when Madison was helpless and Bernie was about to give up), and he exhibits a practical spatial awareness and cautiousness of danger when he's accompanying Madison and Bernie through Apex.
  • Qi'ra from Solo grew up on the streets on Coronet City and is quite capable of looking after herself. She's never had a formal education, but she's still intelligent, quick on her feet, resourceful and usually a good judge of character. Star Wars: Most Wanted and deleted scenes in Solo also emphasize that she knows lots of shortcuts, hiding places and alternate routes around her home city. Her smarts have enabled her to survive and adapt to life in organized crime.
  • On Tommy Boy, this explicitly said to be Tommy's ability, reflected in being good at persuading people into buying from him once he starts to relax, rather than ape what his father would say.
  • All The Warriors are this to an extent - it goes with the lifestyle - but none more so than Swan. He's almost always levelheaded, good at improvising and sussing out situations, and successfully leads most of the group back to Coney Island while the cops and every other gang is after them. A particularly notable example is when Mercy points out to Swan that he's being followed by the Punks' leader; he tells her he already knows and was trying not to let the Punk know that he knows.

  • 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. Rincewind, having grown up in the Shades also has a good measure of this.
  • 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.
  • Azoth/Kylo in Brent Weeks's The Night Angel Trilogy has street smarts from his time as a street urchin before becoming a wetboy; skills that serve him well in his new role as a Professional Killer and Combat Pragmatist
  • 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 Survivor Dogs, thanks to his experience of living on the streets. He even uses his brains to outsmart the Fierce Dogs that were attacking his friends.
  • Rose Hathaway from Vampire Academy doesn't have the highest academic grades, but boy is she good at survival. She copes well with most new situations that come her way and figures things out easily.
  • Kira in The Lost Redeemer grew up as a slave on the island city of Kalamir and became used to dangerous urban environments. In one chapter, she's able to climb out her window and follow Thane at night without being seen. She's later noticed by Joron, another Street Smart character.
  • Every street level character in Gentleman Bastard

    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. Sheldon in particular has No Social Skills at all.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • As a former smuggler, Davos is well acquainted with the seedy underbellies of both Westeros and Essos, and still has many friends and acquaintances (especially Salladhor Saan) who prove very useful both to him and Stannis. He also remains a capable smuggler, though he's "lived within the law for 17 years."
    • Another facet of Bronn's unique, worldly wisdom. This makes him a very effective City Watch commander.
  • Star Trek: Picard: Cristóbal Rios has the know-how to survive the anarchic Wretched Hive of the former Romulan Neutral Zone, unlike Elnor and Jean-Luc Picard.
    Rios: But you do this, you put a bounty on all of us. I don't give a damn, but the kid and the old man, they don't stand a chance out here with a price on their heads.
  • When Glenn in The Walking Dead unveils a complex plan using the city's byways to evade the walkers, Daryl demands to know what he did before to give him such knowledge. The answer: "Deliver pizza."
  • The Wire: different levels of street smarts play out with the various groups in the show. Bubbles is trying to school Johnny, and later Sherrod, on how to survive day to day as a homeless heroin addict, and Johnny's inexperience quickly gets him beat up for trying to buy drugs with photocopied money. Ziggy acts like he knows the game, but ends up getting taken advantage of both by Frog who sells his package, and Cheese who he buys the package from, and while Nick is better at the job than Ziggy, he makes the mistake of storing drugs and money at his own residence. Lieutenant Marimov is so ill informed about how drug dealers operate he's surprised the stash he wanted to raid had been moved. Colicchio falls for a prank set up by hoppers where he picks up a paper bag full of shit thinking it's the dealer's stash.

    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.
  • 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).
  • This is an important attribute for any Shadowrunner who wishes to become the next legend in underground circles; they must learn the harsh aspects of going without a SIN, relying on Street Docs, looking for reliable fixers, knowing who to trust, being wary of any Mr. Johnson while accepting a run, treading carefully on any place run by gangs, a particular company, and/or security divisions like Lone Star, keeping an eye on their reputation to prevent them from being wanted on the list by Lone Star and any company who they decided to cross with, all up to using futuristic street slang in order to familiarize with the underground world. And that's just the handful of unwritten rules that a would-be runner of the shadows has to learn. The 'Black Trenchcoat' playing style among players and GMs often heavily utilizes street intelligence due to the darker, grittier, and more realistic gameplay in contrast to the 'Pink Mohawk' playing style, where the latter usually features liberal levels of Rule of Fun for gameplay runs.

    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 an 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.
    • This extends to BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle as well. The instant she and Chie lock eyes, she recognizes that Chie is competent with assorted martial arts, and the two basically kick it off as best they can (perhaps a bit literally) before the System interferes. Likewise, Blake barely manages to get past calling Makoto a Faunus before she herself is identified as one with the issues she endured to go with it.

    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 streetwise.
    • And Azula dangerously so.
  • Andy French in Mission Hill is this in direct contrast to his brother who is a genius in school but completely socially inept. So much so that he often comes up with great, if a touch family-unfriendly, advice and solutions to problems:
    Kevin: I just don't understand how it happened. I was trying to be responsible.
    Andy: Because sometimes a little irresponsibility solves everything.
  • Sumo Sumouski from Clarence was described as this in a behind-the-scenes by creator Skyler Page.