The Polyamorous City

    The anarchist city is the polyamorous city. When we think about city design in an anarchist world, we must consider that our cities will have this social component, which will certainly change the way we think about, interact with, and build any city. Most contemporary literature of today, excludes this from its discussions.1 Yet, to understand what the polyamorous, anarchist city is, one perhaps ought to understand what polyamory is, then we can know better how to apply the concept to city design itself. Below, this topic will be addressed in that order.

What is Polyamory

The word “polyamory” is based on the Greek and Latin for “many loves” (literally, poly many + amore love). A polyamorous relationship is a romantic relationship that involves more than two people. (Franklin 2008)

    Several years ago while on the Pomona College campus I heard a lecture by one prominent leader in the asexual community who spoke about the similarity which the asexual community has with the polyamorous community. The presenter spoke of how they are essentially the same animal: They function under the principle of a non-hierarchal network model (an anarchist model, if you will) of deeply intimate relationships, but in polyamorous relationships there is a sexual component, in asexual relationships there is not. No one person can be everything for another. The concept and exclusivity of monogamy is a reaction to the instability and hierarchy of capitalism and such exclusivity tends to lock-in the hierarchal types of relationships.

    So imagine a world without monogamy, in which each relationship we have with another is so unique that we cannot really define it as similar to another person. Some relationships have a sexual component, others may not, some have a lot of the sexual component, others have only a little. Each is unique unto itself. What is paramount is that there is no hierarchy of power. There is no girlfriend or boyfriend, nor even “significant other,” for all people are significant to us. We cannot be jealous, for jealousy is bound up the concept of ownership, of one person owning another in some way. It is bound in the concept that he or she is exclusively mine.

    Such obligation and thus exclusivity cannot exist in anarchy. When we are obligated by a rule, a social construct, the ownership of one person by another, by a marriage contract, by even the construct of ‘significant other’ we run afoul into a place of slavery and not true freedom, and a place of division and alienation.

    The true binding force should be our enjoyment of the presence of another. This why we care, because they bring into our lives some thing, some difference, that another cannot or does not.

    I know of a man who was a married to a woman and he was infertile. It made her unhappy that he could not have children with her and so they divorced and she remarried to someone else and she had several children with her new husband. He eventually remarried too, but in the anarchist world there is no such unhappiness and little of such exclusivity. If you are very close to another person, and would like to have children with other but cannot, in your web of relationships, you might ask another to join you and have children with you. And even the children are not possessions. There are not parents. There is no division, perhaps three or four older people ‘raise’ the younger, but nothing binds except the enjoyment and care we have for others.

Polyamorous Places

    As we consider these definitions in the context of city design and any environmental design for that matter, we must realize that there are no boundaries any longer. With the abandonment of the ownership construct, we find that fences to keep people out no longer exist, we discover that as we design and building new structures, that entrances, exits, and other types of portals, they take on totally different meanings, likewise all spaces too, from bedrooms to streets. For we are free of all political entrappings, for the anarchist world is an anti-political world — none wield power over others.

    In the instance of fences, as our yards, front and back, are full of crops, without ownership we may likely decide to start taking down all the fences in neighborhoods. We might have pathways between structures, but separations concerning ownership carry no meaning. We might though have fences for other reasons, such as to keep out the rabbits from eating the crops, or to keep in the chickens to eat up the bugs. Even then though, in the abandonment of domestication, we may not have chickens.

    The abandonment of ownership and the embrace of polyamory may lead us to physically connect various houses in a neighborhood which before, we never would. With fewer fences and more connected homes, we may find the need for more direct footpaths between buildings too. As we think about the spaces between structures, it is important to remember the concept that the perception of unique differentiation is what creates meaning for us as human beings (Tveter 2007), so try to make each space between buildings, unique unto itself.

    Entrances and exits, living rooms and bedrooms, take on new meanings. As we are functioning on an almost totally local level, if not totally, we may end up turning certain streets into areas for crops to grow. Only the most major arterioles are used for larger scale travel and with the abandonment of almost all, if not all higher technologies, automobiles cease to be used. Mentally and physically, we move without hesitation; we enter and leave without fear. As we approach a dwelling or any structure, there is no longer owner, landlord, banks, courts, police – and so we approach all places without any fear. We live in a world of total liberation (Bonanno 1977). Bedrooms and living rooms take on all new qualities. We find that we demolish many walls between bedrooms to make them more communal in their nature. Before, in the capitalist-authoritarian world, the alienations of power and ownership were so severe that we turned to identity so much stronger then as a source of holding to some sort of ownership.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls;
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
W. Shakespeare. Othello Act III, Sc. 3, Line 155 (1604)

When one owned nothing else, they still had their identity. Without ownership now though, we have a name, but name holds not such meanings. It merely exists. We have no possessions either, for they are merely existence around us. There are clothes, and we wear whatever we will. And so our bedrooms are transformed into a totally new landscape where clothing may be kept, but we wear whatever brings us joy to wear — for in anarchy, our lives are play, but more than that — our every breath is to continue living only because we enjoy the existence of life together and freedom over slavery to any sorts of ownership systems.

    The transcendance of identity embodies that very abandonment. Our relationships rise with the same viscocity as the waves of the sea rising against the pillar of a pier, and flow over each other with breadth of the same nature. What someone is more reaches nearly to the point, or even to the point, that who they “are” makes little difference, for when we come in contact with someone else, without fear, there is so little which keeps us from sharing our affections and enjoying our lives together without limits. There is no gender, no race, no ownership over anything. In the deepest sense, we live. And no technology enslaves, our lives are local.

    Some bedrooms might be small, some gardens too, for we all need time and places of such difference to experience solitude at times. Sometimes we need to walk away and be alone and think. And so we do.

    In the polyamorous, anarchist city, our gardens too are different. Perhaps we live in collective groups, sharing our lives and talents with each other, we structure our gardens to provide for everyone. In some areas we may propagate lots of food crops, others clothing crops, others medicinal crops, some collectives may specialize in propagating certain types of gardens and spreading general knowledge of how to use them. When we harvest, whenever we do, we may do so from anywhere, for nothing is owned, but as I tell people who harvest from my own yard, or even as is taught at a local seed swap, take what you need, and always leave some for others to take. You may not know the person who comes after you, but you leave and plant for them as well as yourself. In a small way it is an asexual relationship, of the deepest caring.

    These are the cities we are planning and building now, and we are leaving behind the old. It is the polyamorous city. It is the anarchist city.



1.  When we consider so many contemporary authors, such as Clare Cooper Marcus’s book House as a Mirror of Self (1995), it addresses meaningfulness of dwellings and when people cannot be in control of them for whatever reason and customize them to reflect their own personalities, it leads them to feel uncomfortable with their dwelling. In that vein, there is certainly much to be said for people creating and altering their dwellings to suit their own orientations and consequently feelings about this world.
    The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), by William H. Whyte, Livable Streets (1981), by Donald Appleyard, Fundamentals of Urban Design (1984), by Richard Hedman, Public Streets for Public Use, edited by Anne Vernez Moudon (1987), Housing as if People Mattered, by Clare Cooper Marcus and Wendy Sarkissian (1990), Safe Cities, by Gerda R. Wekerle and Carolyn Whitzman (1995), and People Places, by Clare Cooper Marcus and Carolyn Francis (1997) — we find as design texts often written for the corporate capitalist, the hi-technology designer, and the city planner seeking to protect capital — all designing locations to help people feel ‘better’ in the world of ownership and exploitation. They may at times provide us with some standards for design, but often such texts were written to help mitigate against the experience of exploitation and alienation — not in the context of a world without them.
    Now is a new vision here and we leave behind such past filth.


Appleyard, Donald. 1981. Livable Streets. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bonanno, Alfredo M. 1977. Armed Joy. Fortitude Valley, Australia: Beating Heart Press. Electronic document:

Marcus, Clare Cooper and Wendy Sarkissian. 1990. Housing as if People Mattered: Site Design Guidelines for Medium Density Family Housing. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marcus, Clare Cooper. 1995. House as a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home. Berkeley: Conari Press.

Marcus, Clare Cooper and Carolyn Francis. 1997. People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Moudon, Anne Vernez, ed. 1987. Public Streets for Public Use. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Tveter, Olympia. 2007. Anarchist Urban Planning and Place Theory. Pomona: The Anarchist Planner Collective. Electronic document,

Veaux, Franklin. 2008. Polyamory? What, like, two girlfriends?. Electronic document,

Wekerle, Gerda R. and Carolyn Whitzman. 1995. Safe Cities: Guidelines for Planning Design and Management. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Whyte, William H. 1980. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington, D.C.: The Conservation Foundation.