The promotional video for Neom, Saudi Arabia’s latest desert city project, promises not just a megacity, but a utopian metropolis serving humankind.https://www.citylab.com/design/2017/11/saudi-arabias-latest-planned-city-costs-500-billion-and-is-insanely-huge/544748/
“This is the blank page you need to write humanity’s next chapter,” the British narrator intones as visions of flawless greenhouse vegetation, frolicking families of all races and creeds, and solar panels gently float across the screen. “This is where we can prepare together for the next era of human progress.”
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced Neom last month. The $500 billion megacity, whose name is an amalgamation of neo—Latin for “new”—and “m” for the first letter in mustaqbal, the Arabic word for “future,” will span 10,000 square miles. That’s 33 times the size of New York City. The metropolis will skirt the northwest coast of the country on the Red Sea, even reaching north into Jordan and across the sea, via a bridge, into Egypt.
Prince Mohammed envisions Neom as a hub for manufacturing, renewable energy, biotechnology, media, and entertainment, filled with skyscrapers, five-star hotels, and robots to free humans from repetitive labor. The website dedicated to the city proclaims that it will offer “an idyllic lifestyle…founded on modern architecture, lush green spaces, quality of life, safety, and quality in service of humanity paired with excellent economic opportunities.”
Despite the lofty rhetoric, incredible size, and enormous pricetag, Neom is in many ways simply the latest example of the kingdom’s quest to decrease its economic reliance on oil. While Saudi Arabia’s oil won’t run out for decades, fluctuating prices make it difficult to rely on revenue. Last year, Prince Mohammed launched Vision 2030, a 15-year plan of policy changes that aim to keep the country prosperous without oil.
Saudi leaders have understood for years that their country’s economy must change, but the projects launched to further that goal, including planned “economic cities,” have not always succeeded. King Abdullah Economic City, a metropolis and port located south of where Neom will sit, houses fewer than 10,000 people after more than 10 years, though its projected population was two million. And King Abdullah Financial District north of Riyadh, meant to rival Dubai as an economic hub, is still incomplete after more than a decade. As of last April, nary a financial institution had agreed to occupy any of the district’s 73 buildings.