[MUST SEE] Saudi Arabia unveils plans for its futuristic NEOM megacity

[&WATCH] Saudi Arabia unveils plans for its megacity futuristic NEOM

MISE À DAY

JEDDAH | Saudi Arabia's futuristic NEOM megacity will stretch 170 kilometers and house two massive mirror-covered skyscrapers, according to new plans unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which have not erased doubts about the economic feasibility and environmental impact of the project.

Called “The Line”, the two huge parallel skyscrapers 500 meters high will form the center of the city on the Red Sea, the multi-hundred-billion-dollar flagship project of Mohammed bin Salman, de facto ruler of the kingdom, who seeks to diversify the economy of the oil country.  

With its flying taxis and domestic robots, NEOM has been making a lot of noise since its first announcement in 2017, even if architects and economists have questioned its feasibility.

Initially, NEOM was billed as a regional “Silicon Valley,” a biotech and digital center spanning 26,500 square kilometers. 

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

The idea is to rethink urban life on a surface of just 34 square kilometers to respond to “liveability and environmental crises,” he added, again sparking skepticism among some. 

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

Population boom

Authorities have in the past mentioned the figure of one million inhabitants in NEOM. 

The crown prince has now set the bar at 1.2 million inhabitants by 2030 and nine 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. 

Nationally, the goal is to reach 100 million people by 2040, “nearly 30 million Saudis and 70 million or more foreigners,” compared to around 34 million people today, said Mohammed bin Salman. 

“This is the main interest of the construction of NEOM: to increase the capacity (demographic, note) of Saudi Arabia (…). And since we're doing it from scratch, why copy normal cities?”

Only 200 meters wide, “The Line” must respond to uncontrolled urban sprawl that is harmful to the environment. environment, by superimposing 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 facilities like outdoor ski slopes and “a high-speed train with an end-to-end ride (from the city) of 20 minutes,” according to the press release on Monday. 

NEOM is also expected to be governed by its own law, which is being drafted, but Saudi officials have already claimed they had no plans to lift the alcohol ban imposed in the conservative kingdom. 

Raise funds

< p>Another challenge for NEOM: to respect the promises in terms of environmental protection of the country which has committed – without convincing the defenders of the environment – to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. 

According to a promotional video released on Monday, the site will be powered entirely by renewable energy and will feature “a year-round temperate microclimate with natural ventilation.” 

NEOM is well positioned to benefit from solar and wind power, and the city is set to host the world's largest green hydrogen plant, notes Torbjorn Soltvedt, of consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “But the feasibility of NEOM in as a whole is unclear given the unprecedented scale and cost of the project”.

The cost of the “first phase”, which extends until 2030, is estimated at 1 200 billion Saudi riyals (about $319 billion), according to Prince Mohammed. 

In addition to government grants, funds are expected to come from the private sector and NEOM's planned IPO in 2024. 

Funding remains a potential challenge, even if the current context, marked by soaring oil prices, is more favorable for the kingdom than during the COVID-19 pandemic.&nbsp ;

Furthermore, “funding is only part of the equation,” emphasizes Robert Mogielnicki. 

“Demand is harder to buy, especially when asking people to participate in an experiment about living and working in the future.”