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Six Tips for Becoming Street Smart Using Urban Survival Skills

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 12, 2016
Six Tips for Becoming Street Smart Using Urban Survival Skills

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The term “Urban Survival” is bantered around a lot these days and can mean different things depending on the context in which it is written.  To my pal George at, it represents surviving the replay of the Great Depression of 1929 in current times.  And in a sense, that is the foundation upon which Backdoor Survival was initially built.

For today’s article, I am going to use the term in a slightly different context, namely how you can survive in an urban environment by becoming proficient at street smarts.  Or, put even another way, tips for the development of a street smart attitude in a survival situation.

Six Tips for Becoming Street Smart

First let us start out with a definition of “street smart”.  The Urban Dictionary describes street smart as the prevailing trait of “someone who is intelligent, has good common sense, knows how to handle bad situations, and has the skills necessary to function where they live”.  To me, “Street Smart” is the ability to recognize what is going on in the world and the place that you live in.  That plus having the physical and mental tools to adapt and survive within that world and that place.  That is my definition and I like it.

So imagine this:

There is chaos around you (due to a natural disaster, civil unrest, massive unemployment, whatever) and even though you stay close to home, you must venture out to go to your job, take your kids to school, and to periodically make a trip to the grocery store.  And yet the moment you step outside you can feel the tension.

What do you do?

Urban Survival Skills for the Street Savvy

1.  Trust you instincts and stay alert:  You know those gut feelings of yours?  Now is the time to pay attention.  If something around you seems “off”, walk away and retreat to safety.  Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to admit that you are frightened even if you feel foolish after the fact.  Bad vibes are bad vibes so trust yourself and you will be fine.

2.  Evaluate the risks:  Headed to unfamiliar area?  Evaluate the risks so that you are prepared.  Dress to blend in, don’t carry a lot of obviously expensive electronics, and don’t call excessive attention to yourself.  If the area in under siege, evaluate your need to even go there.  Is it worth the risk?

3.  Evaluate your home security and create a safe zone:  Make sure the outdoor area of your home is well lit and that the foliage and shrubbery is trimmed around the perimeter of your home site.  The last thing you want is a convenient hiding place for the bad guys right there on your property.

4.  Situational awareness:  Teach yourself to actively look for signs of threats and dangers.  Crime can be anywhere but tends to be more prevalent in dark, quiet areas such as parking garages, alleys, stairs, and lonely roadways.  As you enter these areas, look around for things that don’t seem quite right.  Trust your gut!

5.  Know your neighborhood:  Reach out and get to know your neighbors and members of your community.  I have said this before and will say it again:  talk among yourselves and come up with a plan to work together and to look after each other during a crisis or disaster.

6.  Every day carry items:  Increase your ability to defend yourself and get attention.  This can be as simple as carrying a whistle, some pepper spray and a small flashlight.  Or, depending on your situation, this could include a knife or firearm.

Gayes Pocket EDC

What To Do If You Feel Threatened

Attitude is everything and can make a huge difference.  Do not give off signals that you feel vulnerable and threatened.  Nope – don’t do that.  On the other hand, do not purposely walk in to a dangerous situation.  Instead, withdraw as quietly and unobtrusively as you can and retreat to an area where there are more people around.

Worse case, run away while making a loud noise (remember that whistle?)

The Final Word

Having street smarts takes common sense and the ability to deal with all kinds of people in a myriad of contentious situations.  While having well honed street smarts is essential for urban dwellers, street smarts are also an important skill for those in a rural community or remote area.

There is no better time than now to practice a street smart and street savvy attitude.  Above all, be safe.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin: Here are some of the items that are related to today’s article along with a few other items that are survival and preparedness essentials.

Sabre Compact Pepper Spray with Quick Release Key Ring: The portability of this pepper spray adds to its appeal since it can be easily carried on a key ring or in a handbag or backpack.

Windstorm Safety Whistle:  This particular whistle can be heard a long distance away and above howling wind and other competing sounds. Cheapie whistles are fine for clipping to jackets but for my survival ring, this is the one I carry.

Mace Screecher Personal Alarm:  When shopping for a whistle or pocket alarm, read the review and make sure whatever you choose is LOUD!

pocket survival kit_3Streamlight Nano Light Keychain LED Flashlight:  I have a variety of small flashlights.  They are in my handbag, nightstand and the pockets of my jackets.  This one is extremely small and light weight yet it will throw off a decent amount of super-bright light. It is only.36 ounces and 1.47 inches long!  This is the one I carry on my EDC survival ring (pictured above).

Kershaw OSO Sweet Knife:  This “oh so sweet” knife is solidly built, stainless steel knife that comes razor sharp right out of the package. It will pretty much cut through anything the price is amazing.

Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression: The book is a true treasure. Recommended not only for the recipes, but for the heartwarming anecdotes that fondly recall memories of life when all you could count on was yourself and strength of the family unit.

Holding Your Ground: Preparing for Defense if it All Falls Apart: I have not had time to write up my review (excellent!) of this book but I will tell you this. You will want to study this book if you care about defending your homestead.


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16 Responses to “Six Tips for Becoming Street Smart Using Urban Survival Skills”

  1. Hi Gaye,
    I’ve followed your suggestions for a couple of years now. This is the first time I have ever commented on anything. I was always thankful I didn’t live in areas that were prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes. I thought I lived in a safe area where “nothing ever happens”. Well, that all changed 2 nights ago when there was a 5.2 earthquake in eastern Arizona & western New Mexico!!! We don’t have earthquakes!! I’ve live here all of my 50 plus years & this was a first. Although nothing was lost or no one was injured, we are all just in shock. I’m glad I have provisions & some preps ….just in case. Thank you for what you do.

  2. Jim –
    There is more that one reason to carry a whistle or a knife. You ONLY seem to think of muggings or being attacked by someone. What about if you are lost in the wilderness and people are searching for you. The sound of a whistle will carry much further and can aid them in locating you. How well can you cut branches with your fingernails? With a knife you can gather small wood for a fire or even build a temporary shelter.
    There are hundreds of uses for the whistle and knife. They are small tools, and when used in the correct place and time may save your life.

    • My whistle is with me on a lanyard whenever I go for a hike. No one should rely solely on a cell phone as a mechanism to call for help although having one onboard is still a good idea so that you can use it to call 911 provided a signal is available.

    • “..lost in the wilderness..” connotes being off the beaten track in the Cascades, which ain’t necessarily so. A lot of major urban centers have parks that include some pretty rugged terrain, and you can twist an ankle or break a leg there as easily as anywhere else. Being 1/8 of a mile in “the bush” in the Cleveland MetroParks is effectively just as remote as the middle of Yellowstone Park. A whistle, a compact flashlight, a knife and a way of making fire can make all of the difference in the world. And I can guarantee you bad stuff will happen when your cell phone reception is lousy and the batts decide to take a dump.


  3. I’m changing my user name from Jim to JimW – there are getting to be too many Jim’s on here and people might think I said something I didn’t. Like the post above.

    • JimW – Good plan. I actually wondered about that. I am not sure where that SmartPhone comment came from. As you know, I do not censor.

  4. I’d suggest lightly coating the whistle with vaseline so that when that street thug and recidivist jams it into your nether parts it won’t hurt as much. Ditto for the little Swiss Army thing.

    Put the smartphone away and pick your head up.Learn Lt Col Jeff Cooper’s Color Code. Practice using it.

    Remember: Distance/obstacles put between a threat and you = time. Time = the ability to make decisions about how you will handle the situation.

    “An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.” said the Good Colonel

    • @Jim; While I am one that appreciates droll humor, when mixed with snarkiness and an absence of facts, it becomes boorish and banal to the point no one pays any attention to it any more than an irritating gnat that one swats at. I have noted over 6 decades that if one is to be a SUCCESSFUL and sarcastic smart-ass, one should be unerringly accurate. Carefully reading the above posit that you refer to does not indicate any mention of a “Swiss Army thing”, nor was a smartphone, even as ubiquitous as they are. On the other hand, LtCol Cooper’s ethos of preparedness is spot on, as far as it goes and your quotes are accurate in letter and spirit. However, as a student of situational awareness for longer than most, it is often the lesser things that remedy a situation, rather than deadly force, although I carry every day, every where except where illegal by statute. The thing that most predators don’t want is for anyone to notice what they are doing. To blow a loud blast with a whistle, or to set off an emergency noise maker will deter most (not all) perpetrators at that point. Even LtCol Cooper would concur with the least use of force (or commotion) that gets the job done as being the right thing to do. Even if it doesn’t deter, it certainly distracts and doesn’t inhibit one’s use of other means of force but SHOULD BE part of any realistic training plan. A bullet not fired is the best kind as all the others have consequences attached to them and should only be a reasonable last resort. The most embarrassing thing about being a smart-ass is when the “smart” gets left out. Best regards and be well.

  5. It’s not about whether someone can speak the same vocal language i.e. English. It’s about getting to recognize one’s feelings enough to know when danger is around. What do I mean? If I teaching a small child about safety, it’s not about teaching ‘stranger danger’. It’s about teaching the child when to know someone is dangerous. So, first, you talk to her about what happens in the body when danger is around. What’s happening inside herself? Next step, you take her to the park and talk with her about the people in the park. Who looks dangerous and who ‘feels’ dangerous. The two aren’t necessarily the same.
    You don’t teach not to talk to strangers, you teach to be careful and aware when strangers are around and not assume they are dangerous just because they look or speak differently. As in this blog, you teach awareness if/when you begin to enter an area which might be dangerous, then just as our country goes on different levels of alert, you as a person can do the same.
    Sometimes moving isn’t an option for now, so why not get to know those people near you? If you are feeling intimidated or afraid, talk to those people and find out which ones are giving you those feelings and which ones may actually be feeling as you are.
    Having lived in multicultural areas, I can say you will find threats anywhere if/when you don’t know what’s around or who’s around. One of my best neighborhood experiences was living next to a family in which the father was a ‘former’ gang leader. My worst experience? Living in a neighborhood where the people were so totally unaware of who or what was going on in their neighborhood, they didn’t know the most vicious gang in town was from their neighborhood.
    I have taught this to kids who were totally unaware of what’s around them . They have survived because they learned to listen to that inner voice we all have. Just my experience. The future is only as bleak as you choose to see it. Being proactive as preppers are, when you see bleak, you are making yourself a possible victim. We do not need to be.

    • That’s the problem, they can’t speak English, and I don’t speak Spanish. I didn’t know the park was like this before I moved in. I have tried several times to speak to them and it turns into a comedy of errors! I just need to move, which I hope to eventually, hope it’s sooner than later.

    • I do understand, I lived where there was not only English/Spanish barrier but also Japanese, Thai and Philippino. A comedy, yes, with gesturing and all…if most are doing it, then why not enjoy it?! Unless, of course, you’re one of those who don’t like playing those gesture games like charades. Either way, I also understand the wanting to move as well.

    • I had a similar issue with some neighbors. They were recent Russian emigres and were learning English, but we managed to communicate. As a matter of fact, we helped them with their English, they helped me with my Russian. And we had a great time: “No, the words were technically correct, but don’t say them like that in polite company because…”

      The trick is to respect the person, respect their culture and understand the difficulty in living someplace completely foreign. Besides, you might learn something.


  6. I live in a mobile home park, most of my neighbors can’t speak English. So I really can’t connect with them. I have been seeing a ghetto element moving into the park, so I am anxious to get out of here before it gets any worse. the article is good, except for the neighbor part. I see that in almost every article I read now, but my neighbors would be more enemies than people to band with, unless I want to join a gang!

    • You did not indicate where you live bur hopefully you will be able to relocate soon. Be safe and definitely keep a watchful eye.

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