Exploring the Futuristic City NEOM Project in Saudi Arabia: A Remarkable Vision

Introduction:

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In Saudi Arabia, an extraordinary endeavor is underway to construct a city that resembles something out of a science fiction movie. This avant-garde city is envisioned as a 170-kilometer-long line, soaring to a height of 500 meters, surpassing even the iconic Eiffel Tower. With a width of only 200 meters, the city features enormous mirror panels adorning its exterior. The ambitious plan includes incorporating lush green spaces and cutting-edge futuristic technologies. Remarkably, the estimated cost of this project is projected to reach a staggering 1 trillion dollars, and Saudi Arabia aims to complete the city by 2045.

Now, the question arises: Can such an extraordinary feat be achieved? Let's delve into the potential benefits and disadvantages of this design and consider the impact it may have on the global stage.

Saudi Arabia Vision 2030: Beyond Deserts and Oil 

When we think of Saudi Arabia, the images of vast deserts and abundant oil resources often come to mind. While it's true that deserts dominate much of the country's landscape, Saudi Arabia is far more geographically diverse. In addition to desert regions, the country boasts savannas, mountains, and even volcanic fields, with over 2,000 dormant and active volcanoes spread throughout its terrain.

Economically, Saudi Arabia holds a prominent position as the largest economy in the Middle East and the 18th largest globally. However, it is undeniable that the country's economy heavily relies on oil. As the world seeks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, Saudi Arabia is keen on diversifying its economy. Following the footsteps of neighboring countries like the United Arab Emirates, which successfully transformed Dubai into a thriving tourism hub, Saudi Arabia has formulated its own ambitious plan known as Saudi Vision 2030.

Saudi Vision 2030 aims to develop the country in various sectors beyond oil. It focuses on enhancing healthcare, education, infrastructure, tourism, and non-oil exports. One significant aspect of this vision is the creation of the NEOM smart city. Led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a substantial portion of the country has been allocated for the development of NEOM, an innovative and technologically advanced urban project.

NEOM: The Futuristic Region Redefining Saudi Arabia

NEOM is not merely a single smart city, but rather a vast region encompassing numerous cities, resorts, and other developments. Spanning an expansive area of approximately 26,500 square kilometers, NEOM is situated in the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia, along the northern Red Sea coast. The selection of this location is driven by its comparatively moderate climate, in contrast to the scorching temperatures typically experienced in the heart of the desert.

The name NEOM carries its own captivating significance. Comprised of the prefix "Neo" derived from Ancient Greek, meaning "new," and the letter "M" representing two elements. Firstly, it represents the initial of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who spearheads the project. Secondly, it represents the Arabic word "Mustaqbal," meaning "future." The vision for NEOM is to create an exemplary city that embodies a new future.

NEOM is envisioned to comprise ten distinct projects or regions, four of which have already been unveiled by the developers. Each region within NEOM aims to contribute to the realization of this visionary endeavor.

OXAGON

The first project is OXAGON, an impressive floating port designed in the shape of an octagon. Serving as NEOM's next-generation industrial center, it promises to redefine industrial operations within the region.

TROJENA

Next is TROJENA, an ambitious endeavor to establish the Arabian Peninsula's premier outdoor skiing destination. With plans for inauguration in 2026, it aims to attract winter sports enthusiasts. Moreover, TROJENA has already secured the bid to host the prestigious Asian Winter Games in 2029. Although natural snowfall is limited, the skiing experience will be enhanced through the use of advanced snow-making technology.

SINDALAH

SINDALAH, the third project, is an expansive luxury resort complex situated along the city's coastline. This sprawling island retreat covers an area of 840,000 square meters and will accommodate around 2,400 guests. SINDALAH is slated to be the first part of NEOM accessible to the public, with its opening scheduled for 2024.

THE LINE

Now, let's turn our attention to the most remarkable project of all—The Line. Initially met with skepticism, The Line has surpassed doubts as construction has already commenced. Spanning an astounding 170 kilometers, this unique city will be positioned between two towering skyscrapers, each soaring 500 meters high. The buildings will be aligned in a linear fashion, with reflective exterior facades. The concept draws inspiration from the idea of Arcology, a fusion of architecture and ecology. The Line embodies the vision of creating highly efficient and densely populated urban areas that minimize environmental impact.

The decision to build NEOM in a linear form stems from the intention to minimize the impact on the surrounding natural landscape. Taking inspiration from real-life examples like research stations in Antarctica, NEOM aims to create a self-sufficient and environmentally insulated city. The concept of Arcology, which combines architecture and ecology, guides this approach.

Why Should We Build This City in a Line:

The Line Project, with its narrow width of only 200 meters, covers an area of just 34 square kilometers despite stretching 170 kilometers in length. Despite its compact size, it aims to accommodate a population of 9 million people, equivalent to that of New York City. This design minimizes the overall footprint and encourages vertical movement through multiple layers, creating a three-dimensional urban environment. This innovative concept is called Zero Gravity Urbanism.

NEOM's developers envision powering the city with 100% renewable energy, utilizing solar, wind, and hydrogen-based power generation. Instead of relying on cars and roads, NEOM will prioritize pedestrian-friendly spaces, parks, and green areas. High-speed transportation will connect the entire length of the Line, offering efficient mobility options.

The city's interior will be planned to ensure that all daily necessities are within a 5-minute walking distance, promoting convenience and accessibility. Climate control systems will maintain a consistent and comfortable environment despite the extreme heat outside. The Line's strategic location along the Red Sea presents significant trading potential, as it lies along the route of 13% of global trade passing through the Suez Canal. Additionally, the construction of NEOM Bay airport nearby will position the city within a 6-hour flight from 40% of the world's population, leveraging Saudi Arabia's central location between Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The developers of The Line envision seamless integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into both personal and commercial aspects of the city. AI systems will collect and analyze data to cater to individuals' personalized needs. However, the implications of this integration are complex and could potentially lead to dystopian scenarios.

In this smart city, individuals may be constantly tracked, and their data could be used to target them with tailored advertisements or products. This raises concerns about privacy and the potential for exploitation. It is important to recognize the potential dark side of The Line project, as it involves analyzing individuals' interests and preferences.

Challenges in completing The Line project:

Securing Sufficient Funding:

The primary challenge in completing The Line project is securing sufficient funding. The project is financed by Saudi Arabia's Sovereign Wealth Private Investment Fund, also known as the Public Investment Fund, which has substantial resources estimated at around $620 billion. However, there are two significant issues to consider.

Firstly, the fund's stability is closely tied to the Saudi economy, which heavily relies on oil. Fluctuations in oil prices can impact the fund's financial health. For instance, in 2020, Riyadh faced a fiscal deficit of $79 billion, highlighting the vulnerability of an economy heavily dependent on oil revenues. Only a small fraction of Saudi Arabia's exports in 2021 were non-oil exports, underscoring the potential volatility of the fund's resources.

Secondly, even if the entire $600 billion from the fund is allocated to the project, it would still fall short of the estimated $1 trillion required for completion. Originally, NEOM was planned to be finished by 2030 with a budget of $500 billion. However, some reports suggest that the project may not be completed until 2050, leading to further cost escalations. As a result, additional investment from foreign countries will be necessary.

Despite efforts to attract foreign investment, Saudi Arabia has encountered challenges in securing funding from international sources. While there have been discussions with foreign and Russian companies, the overall success in attracting significant foreign investment for the project has been limited. Addressing the financial aspects of The Line project remains a critical hurdle, necessitating creative solutions and partnerships to bridge the funding gap and ensure its successful realization.

Required Technology:

One significant challenge facing The Line project is the required technology, as several key components of the project are reliant on technologies that are not yet fully developed or widely available. For instance, the transportation system envisioned for The Line aims to enable travel from one end to the other, spanning 170 km, in just 20 minutes. This would necessitate speeds exceeding 500 km/h, surpassing the capabilities of existing high-speed train systems. While the Shanghai Maglev train currently holds the record for the fastest operational train, reaching approximately 430 km/h, there is currently no technology capable of sustaining speeds exceeding 500 km/h in regular operations.

Furthermore, the project proposes the use of 500-meter-high mirrors along the Line, which raises practical challenges. Although it may be theoretically feasible to create such large mirrors, the actual process and potential obstacles associated with manufacturing and maintaining them at such heights and over a distance of 170 km remain uncertain. Currently, the mirrors appear to be primarily intended for aesthetic purposes, with no specific practical use announced at this stage.

Numerous aspects of the project involve uncharted territory, and it is unclear whether they will be practically achievable. The ambitious nature of The Line means that several technological advancements and breakthroughs will be required to realize its vision. It remains to be seen how feasible and viable these technologies will be in practice, as they have not yet been fully developed or tested for such large-scale implementation.

Impact on the Environment:

Another concern regarding The Line project is its potential impact on the environment. While it is claimed that the project will have minimal environmental impact due to its straight-line design, there are valid concerns regarding the installation of mirrors on the exterior and its effects on animal movement. Migratory birds, in particular, could face risks and challenges in their flight patterns. Additionally, the uninterrupted linear construction of the city may disrupt the movement of land animals, as there will be no convenient spaces for them to cross from one side to the other.

Critics have also raised questions about the project's sustainability and zero-carbon emission claims. The construction of two 500-meter tall glass-covered buildings, extending over such a long distance, would pose significant challenges in using low-carbon materials. The construction process itself would require substantial amounts of steel, glass, and concrete, resulting in approximately 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the carbon emissions of the UK over a four-year period. Such environmental concerns led to criticism when NEOM secured hosting rights for the Asian Winter Games in 2029, as the region lacks natural terrain for skiing, necessitating the creation of artificial environments. The project's impact on energy and local water resources is also a matter of concern.

From an architectural perspective, The Line's design, while space-saving, introduces potential inefficiencies. The reliance on a single transportation route for a city with a projected population of 9 million poses risks. Any disruption along the entire 170 km route could lead to significant delays and transportation issues, highlighting the potential drawbacks of a design heavily dependent on a single point of failure.

The last significant concern:

The last significant concern surrounding The Line project relates to its appeal to potential residents. Despite overcoming the various challenges, the question remains whether people would want to live in such an environment. The city's concept of being enclosed within artificial buildings, with no direct access to the natural outdoors, and constant surveillance by the government may raise doubts about its habitability. It may appear more like a science fiction dystopia rather than an inviting living space.

The idea of living in a city where the outside world is essentially replaced by mirrors may not be appealing to many individuals. Additionally, the continuous surveillance and tracking of residents could raise privacy and security concerns.

Based on these factors, it is possible that The Line project remains a dream and faces challenges in attracting residents in the future.

Regarding the difficulties faced in building extremely tall structures like the one-third constructed world's tallest building, comparable to Burj Khalifa, several factors come into play. Building skyscrapers of such scale involves intricate engineering challenges, such as withstanding wind forces, managing material stress, and ensuring overall structural stability. The complexity and cost involved in executing such ambitious projects can lead to delays, funding issues, and, in some cases, abandonment. These factors contribute to the difficulties in successfully constructing buildings taller than iconic structures like Burj Khalifa.

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