The futuristic NEOM megalopolis in Saudi Arabia will stretch over 170 km and will house two skyscrapers covered in mirrors, according to new plans revealed by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, which did not dispel doubts about the economic and environmental viability of the project.
Called “The Line”, the two enormous parallel skyscrapers 500 meters high will form the center of the city on the Red Sea, an emblematic project of several hundred billion dollars of Mohamed Bin Salmán, the country’s de facto leader, who seeks to diversify the economy of the oil kingdom.
With its flying taxis and domestic robots, NEOM has made a lot of noise since its first announcement in 2017, although architects and economists question its viability.
Although Neom will operate under its own creation law, which is still being drafted, Saudi officials say they have no plans to waive the kingdom’s alcohol ban.
As grand as the Egyptian pyramids
According to him Wall Street Journalthe Saudi crown prince told engineers and designers that he wanted his next architectural project to be as grand as the Egyptian pyramids.
Initially, NEOM billed itself as a regional “Silicon Valley,” a hub for biotech and digital technology spanning 26,500 square kilometers.
But in Monday night’s performance of “The Line,” the prince outlined a 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 and respond to the “livability and environmental crisis,” he added, once again raising skepticism among some.
“The concept has evolved so much from its initial conception that it is sometimes difficult to determine its direction,” says Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
The authorities mentioned in the past the figure of one million inhabitants in NEOM.
9 million inhabitants by 2045
The crown prince now set the limit at 1.2 million inhabitants by 2030 and 9 million by 2045, betting on a demographic boom necessary, according to him, to make Saudi Arabia an economic power capable of competing in all sectors.
On a national scale, the goal is to reach 100 million inhabitants in 2040, “close to 30 million Saudis and 70 million or more foreigners”, compared to some 34 million inhabitants today, Mohamed Bin Salmán declared.
According to the “Wall Street Journal”, the building will disturb important ecological functions, such as the flow of water and the migratory routes of birds.
“The main interest of the construction of NEOM is to increase the demographic capacity of Saudi Arabia. And since we are doing it from scratch, why copy normal cities?”
With a width of only 200 meters, “The Line” must respond to uncontrolled and environmentally harmful urban expansion, overlapping houses, schools and parks, according to the model of “zero gravity urbanism”.
“Daily Necessities” in five minutes on foot, but without alcohol
Residents will have access to “all their daily necessities” within a five-minute walk, as well as other facilities such as outdoor ski slopes and “a high-speed train with a 20-minute journey from end to end (of the city). minutes,” according to the press release published on Monday.
NEOM should also be governed by its own law, which is in the process of being drafted, but Saudi officials have already stated that they do not intend to lift the alcohol ban imposed in this conservative country.
In principle, the Mirror Line will include almost everything its inhabitants could dream of needing, such as a stadium, a yacht club, and renewable food and energy sources.
Another challenge for NEOM is to fulfill promises to protect the environment of the country, which has pledged – without convincing environmental defenders – to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
According to a promotional video released on Monday, the site will be entirely powered by renewable energy and will feature “a year-round mild microclimate with natural ventilation.”
NEOM is well positioned to benefit from solar and wind power, and the city should host the world’s largest green hydrogen plant, says Torbjorn Soltvedt of consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
“But the feasibility of NEOM as a whole is unclear given the unprecedented scale and cost of the project,” he adds.
Salman hopes to change the economy of Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that relies heavily on oil.
The cost of the “first phase”, which runs until 2030, is estimated at 1.2 billion Saudi riyals (about $319 billion), according to Prince Mohammed.
In addition to government grants, funding is expected to come from the private sector and from NEOM’s initial public offering scheduled for 2024.
Financing remains a potential challenge, although the current context, marked by rising oil prices, is more favorable for the kingdom than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other hand, “financing is only one part of the equation,” emphasizes Robert Mogielnicki. “Demand is harder to buy, especially when people are being asked to participate in an experience about life and work in the future.”
FEW (AFP, The Wall Street Journal, NOS)