Reclaim the Streets

Reclaim the Streets (RTS) is a distinctly urban, international social movement that originated in London, England during the mid-90s as a direct reaction to the increasing prevalence of car culture, and the displacement of people and neighbourhoods by State highway expansion projects. In recent years, however, RTS has broadened and diversified its critiques, situating the politics of car culture within the larger framework of global capitalism.

Since the mid-90s, the political agendas of RTS chapters throughout the world have expanded to include almost all aspects of the politicization of urban (public) space in the era of late-capitalist globalization. In this sense, each individual local/ized manifestation of RTS throughout the world has come to incorporate and respond to the specific forces and factors that shape the social and spatial urban landscape.

Regardless of local political specificity, however, the primary means of protest practiced by RTS in its various different global manifestations is "reclaiming" urban (public) space—transforming a given "public" space or site into "a place where people can gather together without cars, without shopping malls, [and] without permission from the state, in order to 'develop the seeds of the future in the present society'" (

Spearheaded by Dave Meslin, founder of the Toronto Public Space Committee, Reclaim the Streets began in Toronto in 1998. Since 1998, RTS Toronto has been organized by several different constellations of political artists and activists concerned with the increasingly unstable and shifting nature of the urban environment. Ranging from political/poetic street parties to more pointed critical/creative critiques of specific urban redevelopment initiatives and the increasing socio-spatial polarization found within the city, RTS has consistently acted as a vehicle to unite and engage a broad spectrum of different voices, forming a temporary, autonomous political space for artists and activists alike. Representing interviews with participants and organizers of the Toronto Reclaim the Streets movement from its inception to present day, Re: Claiming Toronto’s Streets: translocality, RTS, and The Politics of Urban Intervention includes commentary on the local history of this unique phenomenon from Kika Thorne, Dave Meslin, Chris Eby, Rob Tobin, and Dave Fingrut.

- Christopher Smith

An essay on urban social movements and Reclaim the Streets (PDF file):
Christopher Smith, "'Whose Streets?': Urban Social Movements and the Politicization of Space," Public 29 (Summer 2004): 156-67.

Re: Claiming Toronto's Streets video


RTS Toronto Posters and Flyers (1998-2003)

RTS Toronto Photo Archive





Mike Smith, “Dancing in the Dark,” Now Magazine, October 2-8, 2003.

Mike Smith, “Street of Dreams,” Now Magazine, August 22-28, 2002.

Scott Anderson, “Cops Over the Top,” Now Magazine, August 23-29, 2001.

Tooker Gomberg, “What Do Police Have Against Clean Air?” Now Magazine, August 23-29, 2001.

Editorial, “Reclamation Project,” Eye Weekly, August 16, 2001. (September 2009: This article is no longer available online.)

Editorial, “Get Outta Your Car,” Eye Weekly, June 24, 1999. (September 2009: This article is no longer available online.)

Tom Lyons, “Street Party Goes in Peace,” Eye Weekly, June 24, 1999. (September 2009: This article is no longer available online.)

Leah Rumack, “Is Throwing Rose Petals a Crime?” Now Magazine, June 17-23, 1999. (September 2009: This article is no longer available online.)

Sabine Kim, “Arrests Mar Largely Peaceful Protest,” The Annex Gleaner, June 1998.

Jason Botchford, “Police Break Up Bloor St. Sit-In,” Toronto Sun, 1998.

Naomi Klein, “Reclaiming Streets Movement Coming to Street Near You,” Toronto Star, May 7, 1998.

Visible City: Project + Archive is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of CanadaCanada Research Chairs, York Research, Ontario Innovation Trust, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.