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Saudi Prince Reveals Design of the City of the Future in NEOM

By Jennifer L

Saudi Crown Prince announced The Line’s design, a zero carbon city that he plans to build at NEOM which costs between $100 to $200 billion.

Revealed in 2017, NEOM is Prince Mohammed’s plan to turn a desert the size of Belgium into a high-tech and sustainable megacity in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern corner.

It will be a linear metropolis with a ski resort and an industrial city that partially floats on water.

NEOM is one of the largest and most complex urban construction programs in the world. It spans 26,500-square-km (10,230-square-mile) on the Red Sea with several zones.

NEOM ’s business zone costing about $500 billion is for diversifying the economy of the top oil exporter. The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, is the cornerstone investor in NEOM.

The key purpose of building the region is to house the 10 million people that will overcrowd Riyadh. By 2030, the crown prince aims for 1.5 million people to live in “The Line”. That population will be 9 million by 2045.

The Line: A Zero-Carbon City in NEOM

The Line is a zero-carbon city within NEOM. It’s only 200 meters wide, but 170 kilometers long, and 500 meters above sea level.

Prince Mohammed first unveiled plans for the city in January last year. He said about it:

“The city’s vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities… The designs of The Line embody how urban communities will be in the future in an environment free from roads, cars, and emissions.”

The Line will vertically layer homes, offices, public parks, and schools within a mirrored facade stretching over 170 km. It will look like this:

A new exhibit open to the public in Jeddah displays potential designs for “modules” of the twin buildings. They’ll be built in stages by global architecture firms. Popular names include LA-based Morphosis and UK-based Archigram.

The prince said last year that the project would cost $100 to $200 billion. There are no updated figures provided so far.

The environmental solution to urban living

The Line offers a new approach to urban design that’s based on the concept of Zero Gravity Urbanism. It refers to the idea of layering city functions in a vertical way while giving people the possibility of moving seamlessly in three dimensions – up, down, or across.

The urban concept is unique from just the tall buildings we know today. As it layers various facilities, one can move fast and with less effort to reach destinations within minutes.

  • With no roads, cars or emissions, the zero-carbon city will run on 100% renewable energy while 95% of land will be preserved for nature. Unlike traditional cities, people’s health is a priority over transportation and infrastructure.

As The Line will have a footprint of only 34 square kilometers, it has a reduced emissions. Its design creates never-before-seen efficiencies in cities.

Plus, the city’s ideal climate all-year-round will ensure that residents can enjoy the surrounding nature. Tenants will also have access to all facilities within a 5-minute walk, a high-speed rail, with an end-to-end transit of 20 minutes.

The city’s zero-car environment is part of a 100% sustainable transport system – with zero pollution and zero wait time. As such, low commutes will give residents more time for leisure.

And the community will live close to, and in harmony with, nature, 95% of which is untouched by urbanization. The vertical garden city means people are always only a few minutes from nature.

In order to change business as usual, the city’s design is digitized and the construction is industrialized.

Overall, The Line’s zero carbon city offers its residents the following features:

  • Work-life balance
  • Legacy-free urbanism
  • Enhanced livability
  • Leisure and sports
  • Vertical living
  • Next-gen architecture
  • Walkable communities

The announcement of The Line is a continuation of NEOM’s progress in its development. Its final construction will be done in 2025.

NEOM will begin engaging large potential investors by the end of this year. In fact, Saudi officials are talking to different companies around the world to invest and work with NEOM.

With The Line and NEOM at stake, the prince said that he’d be happy if he’ll achieve even just 50% of what he aims with this urban project.

Saudi crown prince wants you talking about his ‘city of the future’

Imagineliving ina vertical metropolis with no cars and a temperate climate, housed in twin high-rises more than 100 miles long, with hanging gardens and stunning views. In this Shangri-La, there’s no traffic or pollution, just green space, amenities and high-speed mass transit.

The twist is that it’s in Saudi Arabia, in a remote stretch of desert, and that you can’t move there anytime soon, because it only exists in promotional videos — the latest pie-in-the-sky pet project of the country’s crown prince and de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.

Last week, the prince unveiled  new details about the project, versions of which he has been talking up for years, calling it a “civilizational revolution” that will challenge “traditional … horizontal cities.” About 100 miles in length and one-eighth of a mile wide, the walled city would form the “infrastructure spine” of a wider megapolis, known as Neom, planned for northwestern Saudi Arabia.

The presentation in Jiddah on July 25 — including slick (yet, some would say, dystopian) promo images and talk of an IPO — set off a days-long media and public relations blitz. The Dubai-based Gulf News called it “Saudi Arabia’s megacity of the future,” while others described the ambitions as “eye-popping.”

According to tech news website the Verge, promotional footage for the city seems like “the result of some very excitable marketing execs and a fortnight of all-nighters in Blender.”

“If you have money,” you should “raise the bar,” Mohammed said at the project’s reveal in Jiddah, Reuters reported. “Why should we copy normal cities?” he added.

Saudi crown prince to meet Macron, as Khashoggi group urges prosecution in France

The new details and material ginned up global interest in the futuristic megaproject just as Mohammed departed July 26 for his first official trip to Europe since the murder of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, which drew international condemnation.

Government critics have been quick to highlight what appeared to be shrewd timing.

“MBS is doing it again: reviving a dystopian vanity project to distract from an abysmal human rights record, while indifferent Western leaders are welcoming him after he learned to hide his fingerprints from ongoing atrocities,” said Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi national whose siblings were imprisoned and who now lives in exile in the United States.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The prince has been keen to end his pariah status and rehabilitate the oil-rich kingdom’s image as a forward-looking power with a modern economy.

In the past, he has used Neom, a $500 billion project owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, as a “key tool for him to consolidate his power” and a “lynchpin in his diplomatic efforts,” Ali Dogan, a research fellow at the Berlin-based Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, wrote last year.

Saudi Arabia’s city of the future has women in sports bras and co-ed offices

In France on Thursday, Mohammed met French President Emmanuel Macron at the presidential palace, where the two leaders discussed Europe’s energy security and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy. Macron said French companies are ready to “support” Saudi Arabia’s transformation, with expertise in sustainable cities and transport, according to a statement from his office released Friday.

Earlier in the week, Mohammed flew to Athens and signed several bilateral agreements, including an energy deal that would see Saudi Arabia export electricity to Greece.

Greek Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis hailed what he said was the kingdom’s move toward a “new era of humanity in renewable energy and new technology,” according to the Guardian.

“Three years after Khashoggi’s murder, Greece made clear this week that politicians would rather talk about energy than the star journalist dismembered by Saudi agents in Istanbul,” the paper reported.

Mohammed was previously shunned by both the Biden administration and European governments after U.S. intelligence concluded that he approved the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey’s largest city.

But as Western nations face steep Russian energy cuts and soaring gas prices as a result of the war in Ukraine, some leaders have softened their stances, downplaying concerns over the country’s human rights record while stressing what officials say is Riyadh’s important role as a strategic partner.

Saudi Arabia has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“The relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference on the same day the U.S. intelligence assessment was released last year.

This month, President Biden traveled to Jiddah to meet with several Middle Eastern leaders, including Mohammed, greeting the prince with a fist bump that drew criticism even from within his own party. Biden said he confronted the prince directly about the Khashoggi killing, “making clear what I thought of it at the time and what I think of it now.”

Rights groups say the administration should push harder.

“The reality is that for Saudi Arabia, nothing would be as groundbreaking, sustainable or futuristic for the country as basic dignity and human rights for people under its jurisdiction,” said Bethany Alhaidari, the Saudi case manager at the Freedom Initiative, an organization advocating for prisoners wrongfully detained in the Middle East.

By - Erin Cunningham is an editor on the Foreign desk, overseeing The Washington Post’s international news coverage during the evening hours in Washington. She joined The Post in 2014 as a correspondent in Cairo and has reported on conflict and political turmoil across the Middle East and Afghanistan. Twitter