This is a civilian’s guide on how to be street smart for foreign and domestic urban scenarios, by a former covert operative, nomad and urban survivalist.
“The street smart concepts of thinking in urban environments are less for severe emergencies and life-threatening scenarios – it’s focus is for the human element and day-to-day city life.”
These strategies and tips on being street smart will be continuously updated over time with new intel.
- For directions, don’t ask a stranger if possible, it’s safest and most reliable to ask a cop, mailman or an employee of any shop along the way.
- Never let anyone know what you’re (really) thinking. Keep them guessing or manipulate.
- Trust your instincts. It’s usually backed by actionable intel that we’re not even aware that we’ve taken in. Treat it like a street sixth sense.
- After an altercation in a ghetto, flee the scene immediately, even if you’re not at any legal risk. It’s not to run from the police, but to run from the assailant’s friends that may be on-scene or nearby.
- Minimize task-fixation (using mobile phone, texting, reading a book etc.) in public spaces, it reduces your situational awareness and increases your status as a potential mark (target).
- When looking each way crossing streets, take a mental snapshot of the “whole picture”, not just if there’s any oncoming traffic. Ideal for direct / deep yet unsuspicious passing observation.
- During a critical situation where evasion or practical defense is not an option, make a loud “scene“ to get the attention of bystanders and to increase the risk factor of the assailant(s).
- The practice of deliberate situational awareness is the single most important element of how to be street smart in any scenario.
- It’s strategic to have a tough appearance but dangerous to overtly act like a tough guy.
- Never have any valuables (including coins) or bags visibly placed inside your parked vehicle, regardless if it’s a good or bad neighborhood.
- The police exist for a reason. They can be an asset for survival or a tool for street-strategy.
- When navigating or lost in an obviously rough and shady neighborhood, avoid backtracking and constantly hitting the same streets.
- Try to always have a generous amount of small bills for change. Taxis, street vendors, black market dealers and others may falsely claim they have no change, forcing you to pay a much higher cost.
- Never mess with a stranger, even for a good reason. Despite their appearance or size, you don’t know who they are or what they’re capable of.
- Keep whatever weapons you may carry a secret, even to your friends and associates. Or at the very least, don’t show the world how and where on your person they’re equipped (holstered, clipped).
- When carrying a concealed firearm, refrain from constant holster adjusting / position reassuring and be mindful of visible printing.
- When going to known dangerous neighborhoods or venues, equip a “decoy wallet”, aka mugger’s wallet along with your actual one.
- How to have a street smart game face: Eyes and eyebrows slightly squinted like you’re thinking or reading, raised chin to exude confidence, not smiling but with a subtle grin for toughness.
- Don’t “see” the world like a tourist; looking up or around confused and or excited, looking at maps, walking without direction or purpose.
- A decent indicator of a relatively safe neighborhood is the busy activity and obvious presence of women and children on the streets.
- On the streets, the best escape route isn’t always a straight line and distance from an assailant, it’s often the first available turn into a public space; shop, restaurant, park, police station etc.
- Never turn your back on a stranger during an active conflict unless to evade.
- When in need, calling out “fire!” will get more effective attention than calling for “help!”.
- Don’t take it personally when a cop is being an asshole to you, it’s (typically) just a responsive byproduct of enforcement authority.
- When called for or approached by a stranger on the street, it’s typically best to ignore and keep moving, cancelling an assailant’s first move.
- If an assailant is in range, so are you.
- Real (active) urban camouflage isn’t about blending into your physical surroundings, it’s about blending into the localized society, the people.
- Wound only to slow down an enemy, maim if you must and kill if only your life is at risk.
- Knowing where you’ve just been is as important as knowing where you’re going, utilize the post-route mental street mapping technique.
- Always carry a force multiplier; tactical knife, expanding baton, knuckle duster etc.
- When in doubt, think how to be street smart by realization first then reacting or responding, never reacting or responding before realization.
- When applicable, the best defense is disengagement – to run away, evade, escape.
- It’s strategic to appear as unimportant, but dangerous to appear as weak in the streets.
- Your everyday carry (on your person gear) is your city toolkit / urban survival kit, equip it as such with mobility and utility in mind.
- The “streets” should be considered the wilderness – populated with some of the world’s most dangerous animals, also known as homo sapiens.
- Street smarts is part urban survival, part casual tradecraft and part social engineering.
“Survival in any form for any environment is an act of prevention and or recovery.” –John V Cain
The featured photos were taken in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Saigon and New York City.
You really know your street smarts my man. My hood is Queens, born in Yonkers.