The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has unveiled plans for a futuristic urban development project called ‘The Line’. Being described as a “linear city” would be a vertical structure with the capacity to house 9 million residents ultimately. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced the plans in 2021 as part of his Vision 2030 initiative, which aims to compete with fellow Gulf nations like the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The construction has already started, and the Kingdom expects residents to begin arriving by 2024.
This is How The Line Looks Like
The Line will be 170km long, 200 meters wide, and 500 meters tall without any roads and cars. It is designed so that facilities will be within 5 minutes of walking distance from the residents. As the city will be free from roads and traffic, it will run purely on 100% renewable energy. For commuting, it will have a high-speed railway system that will travel from one end to another in 20 minutes. The structure will have tall mirrored walls on both sides with greenery stretched across the entire length. This design relies on natural ventilation to maintain an ideal climate all year round. The released designs make the Saudi project look like something straight out of a science-fiction novel.
The Line is only a centrepiece to a much more ambitious Neom project under construction in Tabuk Province in North West KSA. The site, spanning over 26,500 sq km, will be a tourist destination with mountains, deserts, rocks, and oceans. The proposed smart city is the first construction in Neom.
MBS has said this project would tackle humanity’s biggest challenges in urban life and provide an alternate way to live. Branding it as a “civilisation revolution”, he said the city would be an ultimate solution to the livability and environmental crises. However, environmentalists, architects, and economists responded with scepticism about this extravaganza. Many were doubtful that KSA was aware of the scope it was trying to visualise. Others termed it another “vanity project” by the Kingdom that would only serve the rich.
Construction to Go On Amid Controversy
The Neom project, on which The Line city will be built, has been a controversial initiative since the beginning. The marketing material for the project claimed that the construction site was “virgin land”, which has been challenged by an indigenous tribe, al-Huwaitat. In October 2020, they requested the UN to stop KSA authorities from forcefully displacing them to facilitate the mega-city project. Critics fear around 20,000 indigenous people will be dislocated after Neom’s construction. The Huwaitat tribe has lived in the region even before the formation of Saudi Arabia.
According to the reports, an activist from the tribe, Suleiman Mohammed al-Taqique al-Hwaiti, was imprisoned in September 2020, and his social media accounts were deactivated. 13 other members of the tribe were allegedly abducted by KSA forces and held in prison. Moreover, 2 tribe members criticised the Saudi Government and Neom project on social media, after which they were “taken” to unknown whereabouts.
The controversies surrounding this project have compelled some commercial partners to move away from KSA. Previously, Riot Games signed an agreement with the Kingdom to sponsor the “League of Legends” tournament. It backed out due to severe backlash from the gaming community. Moreover, the Prince also faces global criticism over the mysterious murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi in 2018, which is still not resolved.