The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, embarked on an ambitious project known as NEOM. This large-scale development was envisioned as a futuristic city that would attract foreign investment and serve as a centerpiece for the country’s post-oil economy. NEOM was marketed as a high-tech, sustainable, and multicultural city that would revolutionize urban living. The plans for NEOM included a free port, a logistics hub, a tourist town, and even a mountain sports playground, all connected by a cutting-edge linear city known as The Line.

The Line, a 170 km linear city clad in reflective material, was the centerpiece of NEOM’s grand vision. It was meant to symbolize progress and innovation, cutting through the deep desert from the Red Sea. The plans for The Line included promises of freedom, multiculturalism, total surveillance, and advanced AI to support its residents. However, as the project progressed, it became clear that The Line was nothing more than a public relations stunt designed to attract attention and speculative investment capital. The initial grandiose plans, which included proposals for an artificial moon and a population consisting of 50 percent service robots, were quickly scaled back.

Despite the initial hype surrounding NEOM, the project soon faced numerous challenges and criticisms. The location of NEOM, at the intersection of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan, posed geopolitical risks. Additionally, the extreme summer temperatures in the region, exacerbated by global heating, raised questions about the city’s livability. Concerns about security and surveillance, especially in a country known for its authoritarian regime, further dampened enthusiasm for the project. Reports of plans for a private police force and drone surveillance only added to these concerns.

NEOM serves as a cautionary tale of unrealistic urban planning driven by capitalist ideologies and fossil fuel dependence. The failure of The Line and the overall NEOM project highlight the need for cities to prioritize sustainability, equity, and human rights. Rather than investing in speculative mega-projects, the world should focus on making existing cities more livable and environmentally friendly. It is time for wealthy corporations and nation-states, like Saudi Arabia, to acknowledge their roles in driving the climate crisis and take meaningful action to address these pressing issues. Investing in smaller-scale, community-focused urban development projects may hold the key to creating a more just and sustainable future for cities around the world.

The case of NEOM underscores the importance of realistic and thoughtful urban planning. While ambitious projects may capture the imagination, they must also be grounded in practicality, sustainability, and social responsibility. The grand visions of NEOM may have fallen short, but the lessons learned from this experience can guide future efforts to build cities that are truly equitable, resilient, and inclusive.


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