NEOM The Line in Saudi Arabia : the futurist and ecologic megalopolis in the middle of the desert
A city that divides people
The announcement of the organization by Saudi Arabia of the 2029 Asian Winter Games has made a lot of noise in the national and international media. But with this project comes another controversy: the construction of a futuristic city called The Line, supposed to be a solution for the future, on an ecological and social level. But what is The Line? Can we consider this megaproject as a solution for the future?
First of all, we need to take a closer look at this idea from Prince Mohammed Bin Salma, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia since 2017. So what is it ? It’s the name of a future megalopolis built on the shores of the Red Sea in the middle of a desert area. Its particularity ? To be a line. This city will be composed of two 500m high skyscrapers placed one in front of the other and making not less than 170 km long and which should welcome approximately 9 million inhabitants by 2045.
This project, also known as the Neom project, is designed to run on renewable energies through wind, photovoltaic farms and large-scale energy storage systems. Its goal is to be completely carbon neutral. This ambition is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, which aims to get Saudi Arabia out of its dependence on oil. To sum up, it’s a real overhaul of its economy.
It will be a 500-billion-dollar project that aims to make the kingdom a geographical and cultural hub. Neom also aims to be at the forefront of the Internet of Things (IOT), 3D printing, robotics and nanotechnology, for example. Finally, Neom will be an “open-source platform” that experts in massive data analysis (data scientists) will be able to study in order to evaluate the impact of this high-tech urbanism and the various innovations implemented.
“Neom will also be able to boast of its geographical location and natural resources, including the possibility of easily obtaining solar or wind energy. This city of the future is expected to focus its development around nine sectors: energy, water, mobility, biotechnology, food, digital technologies, media, entertainment and new manufacturing processes,” explains Mohammed bin Salmane. “The city administered by an “e-governance” will offer a perfectly secure environment (…) Neom aspires to be the safest, most efficient, most future-oriented and simply the best place in the world to live and work“.
That’s the official line. What is it really?
An ecological and human aberration
Initially, the project could have a carbon footprint of about 1.8 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, in terms of the steel, glass and concretes used in construction. According to many researchers, it’s impossible to build a 500m high building with low carbon materials. Moreover, the impact on biodiversity is not to be neglected. By literally crossing the desert from south to north, The Line also creates a physical barrier with colossal environmental impacts : from the animals that will crash into the huge mirrors erected in the middle of their hunting grounds, to the tiny insects, to the deviation of the winds, and therefore of the pollens, and its consequences on the fertilization of the surrounding lands, by the creation of a microclimate, the balance sheet looks disastrous. Animals will not be able to cross, places near the wall will be flooded upstream while others downstream will be dried out. A barrier stays a barrier.
This massive project requires vast amounts of resources and materials, none of which are on site. A clear example of greenwashing, very popular in recent years and used by polluters, including Saudi Arabia, which is one of the biggest and which, moreover, refused to sign the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.
A project that is too ambitious?
Putting aside the ecological impacts of its construction, a city like Neom, managed as a private company, dominated by artificial intelligence, risks aggravating the already existing economic fractures. Clearly, Neom has a great chance of becoming an island of prosperity that risks being reserved for the world’s elites.
A true utopia that many experts do not declare reliable, either ecologically or humanly, or even unattainable. And the gap between dream and reality is gradually narrowing : the construction of a first block has begun, making this monstrous project more and more concrete.
So the big question is: to what extent is it possible to build a high-tech city that lives up to its ecological and social credentials in the middle of the desert? A question to which no one has any answers yet and which is likely to shake international public opinion in the years, even decades to come…
THE LINE (neom.com) (official website)