Vicious Saudi autocrat Mohamed bin Salman has a new vision for Neom, his plan for a massive, $500 billion, AI-powered, nominally legally independent city-state of the future on the border with Egypt and Jordan. When we last left the crown prince, he had reportedly commissioned 2,300-pages’ worth of proposals from Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Co. and Oliver Wyman boasting of possible amenities like holographic schoolteachers, cloud seeding to create rain, flying taxis, glow-in-the-dark beaches, a giant NASA-built artificial moon, and lots of robots: maids, cage fighters, and dinosaurs.
Now Salman has a bold new idea: One of the cities in Neom is a line. A line roughly 105-miles (170-kilometers) long and a five-minute walk wide, to be exact. No, really, it’s a line. The proposed city is a line that stretches across all of Saudi Arabia. That’s the plan.
In a promotional video from the Saudi government-run Center for International Communication posted this Sunday, Salman pondered the issues plaguing our world today: Why do people spend years of their lives commuting? Where will the estimated 1 billion people displaced by climate change by 2050 relocate? Why do millions die every year of air pollution and car accidents every year?
Clearly the only solutions to these problems is a city, but it’s a line. Excuse me, THE LINE. (editor’s note: we will not be capitalizing it this way because it hurts my eyes.)
“We need to transform the concept of a conventional city into that of a futuristic one,” Salman said in the video. “Today, as the chairman of the board of directors of Neom, I present to you The Line. A city of a million residents with a length of 170 kilometers that preserves 95 percent of nature within NEOM.”
“With zero cars, zero streets, and zero carbon emissions, you can fulfill all your daily requirements within a five minute walk,” the crown prince continued. “And you can travel from end to end within 20 minutes.”
The end-to-end in 20 minutes boast likely refers to some form of mass transit that doesn’t yet exist. That works out to a transit system running at about 317 mph (510 kph). That would be much faster than Japan’s famous Shinkansen train network, which is capped at 200 mph (321 kph). Some Japanese rail companies have tested maglev trains that have gone up to 373 mph (600 kph), though it’s nowhere near ready for primetime.
From there, the prince goes into statistics babble: “With 30% less infrastructure cost, 30% better quality products, and 100% renewable energy, the Line is a project that is a civilizational revolution that puts humans first. There will be plenty of details that will be unfolded at later stages, but for today we leave you with a brief video about this announcement.”
Said video helpfully explains that the Line will consist of a central “spine” connecting “city modules” with no roads or cars. Instead, the top layer will consist of those pedestrian walkways that will connect residences to every possible service in just five minutes, while lower layers will contain infrastructure and transport. The Line will also replace “outdated city services” with AI, which sure.
According to Bloomberg, Saudi officials project the Line will cost around $100-$200 billion of the $500 billion planned to be spent on Neom and will have a population of 1 million with 380,000 jobs by the year 2030. It will have one of the biggest airports in the world for some reason, which seems like a strange addition to a supposedly climate-friendly city.
A website for the project contains videos of Neom’s presumably well-compensated “brightest minds” speaking in vague but upbeat terms about the revolutionary potential of the Line and fielding softball questions from interviewers. In one video, an interviewer asks Neom chief environmental officer Paul Marshall why this project is “one of the most exciting of your entire career?” Marshall responds, “You’re right, I do feel like one of the luckiest guys on the planet right now. Neom has such an amazing ambition, but it’s not just all about developing cities and creating a livable city environment for people, it’s also about an incredible commitment to the protection and the presentation of nature... in fact, our cities will have a net benefit to nature.” (It just kind of goes on like this.)
The site also makes numerous hand wavy and vaguely menacing claims, including that “all businesses and communities” will have “over 90%” of their data processed by AI and robots:
“All businesses and communities on THE LINE are hyper-connected through a digital framework incorporating Artificial Intelligence and robotics that continuously learn and grow – over 90% of the data in NEOM will be analyzed to provide a predictive system with ever-improving services to residents and businesses.”
This is definitely not dystopian.
“What if we built the Line?” the video dramatically concludes. “A 170-kilometer revolution in urban living. Protecting the earth’s most stunning nature, while creating unmatched livability. A home... for all of us. Welcome to the Line.”
The Line. Can you imagine it? It’s a city, but a line. That’s why he named it...the Line. It’s a city named Line (tm) or possibly a series of cities in a Line (tm).
Don’t pay attention to Saudi war crimes in Yemen, the prince’s brutal crackdowns on dissent, the hit squad that tortured journalist Jamal Khashoggi to death, and the other habitual human rights abuses that allow the Saudi monarchy to remain in power. Also, ignore that obstacles facing Neom include budgetary constraints, the forced eviction of tens of thousands of existing residents such as the Huwaitat tribe, coronavirus and oil shock, investor flight over human rights concerns, and the lingering questions of whether the whole project is a distraction from pressing domestic issues and/or a mirage conjured up by consulting firms pandering to the crown prince’s ego and hungry for lucrative fees. Nevermind you that there are numerous ways we could ensure the cities people already live in are prepared for climate change rather than blowing billions of dollars on a vanity project.
Just keep your eyes focused straight ahead. It’s the Line.