The Line A 170 km city in Saudi Arabia. Details and controversy of the project

The line.  The Saudis' controversial 170-kilometer city
photo: NEOM / / Press materials

A futuristic ideal city or the fulfillment of urban planners’ worst nightmares? The Line is a new Saudi project that you can love or hate. They plan to build a city in the form of a single building, 170 km long. The exterior facade should be made of mirrors to reflect the surrounding landscape – the desert. The line could be nicknamed ‘If you have too much oil money’.

Saudi Arabia recently presented the rather ambitious, even for them, urban project “The Line”. It is being built in the northwestern part of the kingdom, which is described as “particularly arid”. It begins on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea. It is an investment with both ambitious ambitions and elements of madness. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and chairman of the NEOM board responsible for the project said in a closed meeting: “I want to build my pyramids.” Hence the line.

De Lijn: what, where and why?

A single-building vertical city, made up of smaller modules folded like blocks, connected by pedestrian platforms, will eventually house 9 million inhabitants. It will be 200 meters wide and 170 km long. Therefore, it will run through coastal, desert and mountain areas at the same time. They are designed to be 500 meters above sea level. In total, as announced in a press release, it should cover an area of ​​34 square kilometers, which is unheard of in cities with such a capacity.

In De Lijn, urban functions are arranged vertically by urban planners, while residents can move smoothly in three dimensions (up, down and across). Everything the tenants need is placed within a 5 minute walk. This is better than typical smart city assumptions that give themselves a 15 minute walk to take care of the most important needs. Through parks and promenades that grow straight out of the buildings, it becomes possible to walk to schools, homes and workplaces.

The sidewalks in The Line will be on different levels. (photo: NEOM / YouTube)

A futuristic city should be a counterbalance to non-functional, ecologically neglected and polluted cities. “A civilizational revolution is coming,” the press release said. The line will only work thanks to renewable energy, which must be controlled by artificial intelligence. Robots – maids or flying taxis would be the daily life there.

We won’t see “traditional” cars (including electric ones) in the city for a very prosaic reason – there are no roads designed in The Line. The individual districts will be connected by high-speed trains and thus “will prioritize the health and well-being of people over transport and infrastructure,” the designers say. The journey from one end to the other is expected to take approximately 20 minutes.

The Line also has … fields to feed the inhabitants. Grains and vegetables are ‘autonomously harvested and packaged’ and transferred to ‘community canteens’ or ‘community kitchens’. Tenants pay subscription fees for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In The Line, the farmland will be located within the city. According to the assumptions, they will eventually feed 9 million inhabitants. Meals in this city will be “cards”. (photo: NEOM / Press materials)

Among the unusual components of a single-building city, you can also find the following:

  • underground stadium;
  • a marina for yachts;
  • corridors to manage the migration of millions of birds.

– The project challenges traditional flat cities and creates a model for protecting nature and improving human life. The Line will address the challenges facing humanity today as its axis revolves around the city, and will shed light on alternative ways of living, emphasizes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Not just dissatisfied

There are many critics of this solution, who describe the Saudi city of the future as dystopian. They also questioned the implementation of the project in terms of technology – in their opinion it is simply not feasible.

Others point to the fact that the city is likely to arise thanks to the large-scale employment of immigrants whose working conditions can be described with the simple word “exploitation”. And while Saudi Arabia has made a number of labor market reforms in recent years related to kafali, i.e. the visa sponsorship system, it is still far from a civilizational approach. Human Watch described changes to the code as periodic, limited in nature, and loosely enforced. In their report, they indicate, among other things, abnormally low income, delayed payment of wages or even the confiscation of passports of foreign workers. In addition, NEOM was criticized for the forced relocation of tribes from the countries through which the investment would pass.

It looks like a city from “Star Wars”. There are many critics from environmentalists, through human rights organizations to architects. (photo: NEOM / Press materials)

The pandemic may also have changed the mindset of future The Line residents, who are concerned about high-rise buildings with a large number of buildings. In addition, doctors are sounding the alarm that the location of buildings between two mirrors will “drown” The Line buildings in eternal shade, and the lack of sunlight could be harmful to health.

In turn, environmentalists are sounding alarms that the size of the structure will affect groundwater flow, especially in desert areas, and restrict the movement of birds and other animals.

As if all these problems weren’t enough, designers also have to deal with… the curvature of the Earth. It bends about 20 cm every 1.5 km. To this end, they propose to leave the gap in the upper part of the modules at almost 800 meters in order to close it.

The Line is a 170-kilometer, one-piece city that starts off the coast of the Red Sea. (photo: NEOM / YouTube)

Who is going to pay The Line?

Funding incl. The Line is managed by the Saudi government ($500 billion) and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (a state wealth fund chaired by Prince bin Salman) and local and international investors. The latter are reluctant to open their checkbooks. The boycott has been going on since 2018 over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashojji, ordered by the authorities in Riyadh. Isolation eased after the July summit between US President Joe Biden and the aforementioned Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This could open the way for investment in NEOM. In addition, Saudi Arabia enjoys unexpected revenues from high oil prices.

Construction on The Line was scheduled to begin in 2025, but was delayed by five years. However, the Crown Prince says the entire investment is not at risk. According to The Wall Street Journal, the project could cost up to $1 trillion and take 50 years.

The Line is one of the phases in the Vision 2030 plan, which will allow Saudi Arabia to compete with its Persian Gulf neighbors, namely Dubai with its Palm Island or Abu Dhabi. By the end of 2030, the Saudis plan to reach the level of 100 million tourists who would visit the country during the year. This is expected to give the economy a huge cash injection of billions of dollars.

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