the future of megaprojects

neom city: science fiction
or hyper-digital reality?

Construction is underway in the Arabian desert on “a new vision of what the future can be”. Bold claims like this have become commonplace when describing Neom City, the giga-project that is serving as a cornerstone of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan. But what are we to make of this $500 billion project? Are we looking at science fiction or a new hyper-digital reality? Today, we break down everything you need to know about Neom City.

What is Neom?

According to Neom’s website, the project is “an attempt to do something that’s never been done before and it’s coming at a time when the world needs fresh thinking and new solutions”. The context of Neom is an important part of its story. Firstly, the Gulf Kingdom has committed to moving away from a historical reliance on fossil fuels, towards renewable energy sources. Secondly, eager to compete with other GCC states which are beginning to reap the rewards of booming tourism industries, Saudi Arabia has committed to building world-leading attractions in hopes of drawing visitors from around the world. 

Neom City is best understood as a 10,000 square-mile city state and tech hub, with 16 boroughs and two separate cities within its boundaries – Oxagon and The Line. Planners have announced that Oxagon will be the industrial hub of the future. Run completely with AI and robots, the eight-sided port will reside in the Suez Canal and is expected to be the largest floating structure in the world. 

If you have heard news about Neom, it will most likely have been the significant buzz around The Line. According to the Neom Company, The Line will be “a city of a million residents within a length of 170 km that preserves 95% of the nature…with zero cars, zero streets and zero carbon emissions”. In essence, we are witnessing the rise of an autonomous city bigger than Kuwait and Israel which, if all goes well, will be completed in 2025.

Science Fiction or Hyper-Digital Reality?

The name ‘Neom’ comes from a fusion of the Greek word ‘neos’ (new) and the Arabic word ‘mustaqbal’ (future). But is this new future really too good to be true?

One thing is for sure – developers are confident that they can do it. Ali Shihabi, a member of Neom’s Advisory Board, claims that the city will be built “block by block”. According to Shihabi, “people say this is some crazy project that is going to cost gazillions, but it is going to be built module by module, in a manner that meets demand”. Following reports of high interest from firms including Energy China, Sepco 3 and Larsen &  Toubro India in an EPC contract tranche for the city’s solar and wind power plants, it seems that the project is moving along apace.

However, there have been concerns that this bold vision may be too far-fetched. Some have argued that the end result may simply be too difficult to achieve. The Chief Executive of the project has admitted that “not even 1% of the work needed to build the linear city is complete”. If we bear in mind that The Line is expected to contain “cloud-seeding machines” to create artificial rain, glow-in-the-dark sand and autonomous smart transportation, project teams are indeed taking up quite the task. 

While perhaps the plan to move residents into parts of Neom within 2 years seems slightly optimistic, this project is without a doubt one to watch. We will be following the progress of Neom City as it unfolds. Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn to keep up to date on the latest developments.

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Madeleine Jones Casey

Madeleine Jones-Casey

Content Lead at Foresight Works

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