Imagine a visually stunning sci-fi city with robots, flying taxis, and vertical gardening that runs entirely on renewable energy. This is Saudi Arabia’s vision of a futuristic mega-city, NEOM, along the Red Sea coast in Tabuk, in northwest Saudi Arabia. With a budget of $500 billion, now updated to $1 trillion, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the idea of NEOM in 2017, at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, within the framework of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
Why is Saudi Arabia building NEOM?
The name “NEOM” comes from two words – “NEO” meaning “new” in Greek, and the letter “M” is an abbreviation of the Arabic word “Mustaqbal” which means “the future”. NEOM is the prince’s dream of a new future that will accommodate 9 million people by 2045 and help the ambitious population growth goals in Saudi Arabia, as well as making the kingdom a global economic power. NEOM’s most important mission is to diversify the country’s oil-dependent economy.
The city promotes an alternative way of living, focusing on innovation, technology, infrastructure, education, tourism and research. It aims to combat the pressing global challenges faced by urban life and highlights man’s relationship with his environment by preserving 95% of the nature around the city. NEOM will run on 100% renewable energy with zero emissions and a negative carbon footprint.
The industrial center in NEOM will contribute $48 billion to the country’s gross domestic product and create about 380,000 jobs, according to the prince’s vision. He also said that Saudi Arabia aims for its stock exchange to be among the three largest in the world.
The city will be owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, but it also plans to become a source of foreign direct investment. NEOM will operate independently of the current government in the country and will have its own judicial system, taxes and laws. Overall, NEOM will embrace a new economic era in Saudi Arabia.
What would NEOM look like?
The project’s website proudly says that the city will herald a bright dawn, a promising future, and a rich life in a land built by man for the sake of all mankind. In terms of appearance, this smart city will cover an area of 10,200 square miles and stretch for 110 miles along the Red Sea coast. “The Line” is the central metropolis of NEOM, but also has a series of other developments. It is called Neum Bay (which will include the airport), Aqaba, Oxagon (industrial city) and Trogina.
Trojena will be a year-round destination with mountain-quality dry air, a state-of-the-art ski slope, mountain biking, water sports, wellness facilities, and an interactive nature reserve. Apart from that, there are plans for a resort called the Vault, to be built at the foot of the mountain.
The line will have a “Zero Gravity Urban” based on the layered concept. The city will run vertically, and residents can move smoothly in three directions (up, down, and across). There will be no roads, no cars, and just a high-speed transit train that gets you from one end to the other in just 20 minutes. The entire city will be inside two skyscrapers taller than the Eiffel Tower, made of reflective glass. It will be powered by artificial intelligence designed to coexist with nature.
According to the planners, each district will run on renewable energy only, will be sustainably connected, and will be surrounded by nature that will be re-greened and rebuilt.
What is a “line”?
“The Line” is one of the largest and most commercialized projects in NEOM. The monolithic city will stand between an elaborate facade of mirrored glass. This ‘landbreaker’, made up of two parallel buildings, will extend from the Gulf of Aqaba and, in the process, bisect a mountain range that runs along the coast.
The city will be on three different levels, with one giant structure instead of multiple buildings. It will be 110 miles long, 660 feet wide, and about 500 meters high. There will be no roads or cars, only paths and parks. Residents will be able to access all their daily needs within a five-minute walk in the neighbourhood. High-speed rail will run along the “line” for residents, making it possible to travel from end to end in 20 minutes. Vertical farming with vegetables that will be harvested and collected independently will save their sustenance.
Drone footage of The Line, released by OT Sky Drone, revealed that construction had already begun, with excavators seen digging a wide trench in the desert.
Why are scientists and architects suspicious of NEOM?
Since it was announced, scholars and economists have raised questions about the feasibility of building such a grand project. Will the cost be worth it? Its environmental credentials are also in question. The two giant glass mirrors in “The Line” will reflect sunlight and create two really hot thermal zones, literally frying everything around them. So, what about the birds that fly inside? Not a harmonious idea if one wants to protect nature!
The design of the city features a high-speed train that will take residents from one end to the other in 20 minutes. But how does designing one long line help reduce travel time? Why not build a circle, square or rectangle? To make the entire trip in 20 minutes, the train would have to run at an unbearable speed of 326 miles/hour. Currently, the fastest train in the world is the Shanghai Maglev which travels at a speed of 285 miles/hour. Therefore, this design creates problems that could have been avoided easily and at a lower cost.
These problems are just the tip of the iceberg. People also cited the examples of the King Abdullah Economic City, which was launched a decade ago as part of a $30 billion project to build six cities to diversify the economy. But today, only one has been achieved, and it is not only losing the battle to attract foreign investment, but with a population of only 7,000 people so far, it is far from the government’s goal of reaching two million people by 2035.
Nerum’s dream city has a hidden dark side.
🚨 On 2 October, the SCC sentenced Shadli (brother of Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti), Ataullah & Ibrahim Saleh al-Huwaiti to death.— ALQST for Human Rights (@ALQST_En) October 6, 2022
The family members were detained in 2020 for opposing eviction to make way for #Neom.
We condemn the sentences and call for their release. #SaudiArabia pic.twitter.com/NQ5UZOlSCK
This awe-inspiring vision of a green, zero-emissions, and self-sustaining megacity is not without its share of controversy. Based on reports by independent human rights organizations, residents of Saudi Arabia have protested the development of NEOM because it would require the eviction of nearly 20,000 residents of the area, including members of the Bedouin tribe.
A press report based on a rights group in the UK stated that Saudi Arabia quietly sentenced three people to death when they refused to vacate their homes for the sake of the project – Al-Shazly, Atallah and Ibrahim Al-Huwaitat who belong to the Al-Huwaitat tribe in the north of Tabuk Governorate. A tribesman, also the brother of one of the sentenced men, was shot dead by Saudi special forces after he criticized the eviction campaigns on social media.
This raised humanitarian concerns and reminded the world of how Saudi Arabia has always dealt with dissent. Expelling the tribes that have occupied the region for hundreds of years by offering them half-hearted compensation and silencing anyone who raises the voice of protest is just a microcosm of everything that is wrong with this dream!
Did you know that Saudi Arabia won the bid to host the Asian Winter Games in Neum, a city that didn’t exist yet?