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File:City narrows 5098.jpg

For a good time, enter the dark alley.

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.
Guards Guards, Terry Pratchett

In the setting of a large sprawling Metropolis, there is the 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. 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 inhabit of a real life version of this trope that they live in their city's arse end and not be given a Glasgow Grin.

Examples of The City Narrows include:

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.
  • Wherever Holyland takes place has this.

Comic Books

  • The Narrows of Batman's Gotham City also appears in abundance in The Dark Knight Saga films.
    • Batman also has Crime Alley, which is where his parents were killed.
  • Suicide Slum in Metropolis, from Superman
  • The subtly-named Slumville in Midway City, home of Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Doom Patrol.
  • The Triangle, a hotspot of gang warfare in Green Arrow's Star City
  • Hell's Kitchen, NYC, had this reputation IRL; consequently, it serves this purpose in the Marvel Verse.
    • Gail Simone wrote a satirical article when Hell's Kitchen started getting gentrified into Clinton; Daredevil runs into Bullseye, who's more interested in getting a latte at Starbucks than fighting.
  • Arguably, Shadow Hill in Astro City.
  • 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.



  • 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.
    • Arguably, Ankh-Morpork is an inversion; most of the city constitutes one of these, at least up until the events of Men At Arms; the Shades just take it Up to Eleven.
    • 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.
      • Indeed, one of the generals is amazed to learn that the massive loss of men wasn't due to enemy action, but because they went into the Shades carrying weapons and armour - i.e. valuable loot.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Chung Kuo has the lowest, "below the Net" levels of the world city.
  • 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 Michael Flynn's novel The January Dancer, the Terran Corner on Jehovah seems to fall into this category, being a ghetto inhabited by the descendants of those expelled from Earth many generations ago.
  • Knockturn Alley in the Harry Potter books. It's the place where the stores sell artifacts of doom instead of normal magical artifacts.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House", the Maze.
    • In "The Phoenix on the Sword", the conspirators meet in one.
  • Jack Ketch's Warren (or just the Warren) in the Matthew Hawkwood novels. It was almost certainly this in Real Life as well.
  • 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 Honorverse novels, despite much of it concentration on a society's upper layers, like the above example.
  • The district of Hanaught, Lowgate, in Paul Kelly's War Beyond the Veil Series. Also, to a lesser extent, Dmitrigrad's New Hanaught District.
  • King's Landing in A Song of Ice and Fire has Flea Bottom.

Live Action TV

  • Downbelow on Babylon 5
  • In Doctor Who, the poor lower levels of New New York in the episode "Gridlock," complete with vendors selling mood-altering substance patches.
  • Suicide Slums in Metropolis
  • 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.
  • Several parts of Honolulu in Magnum, P.I..

Tabletop Games

  • Shadowrun: The Barrens of Seattle, which even have a mall that is one gigantic black market.
  • Traveller: many Starports have a "Startown", typically at the area where the Imperial government's jurisdiction ends and the Planetary one begins.

Video Games

  • 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.
  • Rapture's Apollo Square district in Bioshock is a fine example of this, despite the city being barely 10 years old at the time.

Web Original

  • 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 (owing to the game engine, since it's complicated trying to give clear definition to all those buildings when your hard drive's virtual memory page file is over 2 GB, which makes it impossible for the author to operate efficiently.) It's located just a few miles away from Latin Town, which is usually pretty peaceful in spite containing ethnic minorities of very low income and little command of English.
    • On the other hand, Latin Town is about the only southern Indiana locale in that story which isn't a Wretched Hive.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • 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. Was completely purged clean by Bolsheviks after the Red October.
    • Now it's Southern Butovo, Tekstilschiki and the Southeastern borough in general, and the entire suburb of Mytischi. 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.
  • Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong (now a handsome park).
  • 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, WA, 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.
  • 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.
  • The "SWATS" (or Zone 4) in Southwest Atlanta, Georgia, so called because it's in Southwwest Atlanta, or because the SWAT team is always there. Quite a few rappers are from there, including T.I. and Big Boi.
  • Take a look at "Several parts of Honolulu in Magnum, P.I.." 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.
  • Certain neighbourhoods of New York City are this. Specifically, the South Bronx and East New York are known for being extremely dangerous.
  1. Anton even calls it thus, triggering an angry rant by Steph Turner, the owner of the restaurant in question, on subject of how the sanitary violations are one of the few things authorities ever care about there.