Saudi Arabia unveils new plans for its futuristic megacity

Dubbed ‘The Line’, the two huge 500m high parallel skyscrapers will form the center of the Red Sea city, the multi-hundred billion dollar flagship project of the kingdom’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, who will seek to diversify the oil country’s economy.

With its flying taxis and domestic robots, Neom has made a lot of noise since its initial announcement in 2017, although architects and economists have questioned its feasibility. Initially, Neom was billed as a regional “Silicon Valley”, a 26,500 square kilometer biotech and digital center.

But during Monday night’s presentation of “The Line,” the prince outlined an even more ambitious vision, describing a utopian city without cars, the most livable “on the entire planet.”

The idea is to rethink urban life in an area of ​​just 34 square kilometers to respond to “livability and environmental crises”, he added, again sparking skepticism among some.

“The concept has evolved so much since its original conception that it is sometimes difficult to determine its direction,” comments Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

Population boom

The authorities have previously mentioned the number of one million inhabitants in Neom. The crown prince has now set the bar at 1.2 million inhabitants in 2030 and nine million in 2045 and is betting on a demographic boom, which according to him is necessary to make Saudi Arabia an economic power that can compete in all sectors.

Nationally, the goal is to reach 100 million residents by 2040, “almost 30 million Saudis and 70 million or more foreigners,” compared with about 34 million today, Mohammed bin Salman said. “This is the main interest in the construction of Neom: to increase Saudi Arabia’s (demographic, ed. note) capacity […]. And since we’re doing it from scratch, why copy normal cities? “.

With a width of only 200 meters, “The Line” must respond to uncontrolled urban sprawl and harmful to the environment, by overlaying houses, schools and parks according to the model of “zero gravity urbanism”.

Residents will have access to “all their daily needs” within a five-minute walk, as well as other amenities such as outdoor ski slopes and “a high-speed train with an end-to-end journey (from the city) of 20 minutes,” according to the press release posted Monday.

Neom is also expected to be subject to its own law, which is being drafted, but Saudi officials have already said they have no plans to lift the kingdom’s alcohol ban.

Find funds

Another challenge for Neom: to respect the pledges regarding environmental protection in the country, which has committed – without convincing the defenders of the environment – to achieve CO2 neutrality by 2060. According to a promotional video published on Monday, the site will be completely powered by renewable energy and will have “a year-round temperate microclimate with natural ventilation”.

Neom is well positioned to take advantage of solar and wind power, and the city will host the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, notes Torbjorn Soltvedt from the consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft. “However, the feasibility of Neom as a whole is unclear given the project’s unprecedented scale and cost.”

The cost of the “first phase,” which extends until 2030, is estimated at 1.2 trillion Saudi riyals (about $319 billion), according to Prince Mohammed. In addition to public subsidies, funds are expected to come from the private sector and Neom’s planned IPO in 2024.

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