What is ‘The Line’ and What is ‘NEOM’? Exploring Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 Plan
By: Drew Jackson / Arab America Contributing Writer
Saudi Arabia’s royal family, helmed by King Salman and, more dominantly, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is possibly the wealthiest royal family on the planet, with an estimated net worth of 1.4 Trillion USD in 2020. This wealth is spread out among the nearly 15,000 members of the Royal Family. It is largely due to the massive revenues generated by Saudi oil in the form of Saudi Aramco, the largest and most profitable oil production company in the world.
Saudi Arabia and MBS have been looking for new ways to diversify their economy over the past decade to move away from oil dependency as the world seeks sustainable energy solutions.
In 2016, the Royal Family set out to make significant strides to decrease their dependency on oil exports with the creation of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan. This plan is a comprehensive outline for MBS to implement by 2030 to achieve three main goals. The plan has the ambition to boost the Saudi economy, reinforce and culturally enrich Saudi society, and move the economic structure towards automation, sustainability, and tourism and away from oil dependency. The Saudis aim to implement their plan via revolutionizing production and trade, but on a larger scale, revolutionizing civilization via the 10,000-square-mile project of NEOM.
NEOM is the new name for a northeast region of Saudi Arabia bordering the Red Sea and is being developed into a super district with three central regions. These regions are meant to serve different functions. One as a luxury tourist destination, another as a technologically advanced industrial and trade site, and the third as a fully automated linear super-city meant to house 9 million people.
Trojena is the most feasible destination proposed to be built by MBS and will serve mainly as a luxury tourist destination and vacation spot for the world’s richest. Trojena is the mountain region of NEOM and will have attractions such as a five-star ski resort, a man-made concrete lake basin for water sports, and a folded vertical village known as ‘The Vault.’ The Vault serves as the main gateway to the region. It is meant to connect the physical and digital worlds by integrating human physical activity with an augmented reality experience within.
According to NEOM’s website, The Vault will be an enclosed valley with its microclimate independent of the region. It will serve as the crossing point into the rest of Trojena’s attractions.
This mega-project is meant to open to the public as soon as 2026 and will serve as a place for tourists and residents to relax year-round, connecting them with nature through technological integration and wild experiences.
OXAGON is the second region in development in NEOM, meant to serve as an industrial sector.
This eight-sided region will sit on and past the coast of NEOM into the Red Sea, with half of the region being a floating district. The nearly 20 square miles of the floating district will be the largest ever man-made floating structure and will serve as a residence site, while the on-shore portion will be the leading manufacturing and research center. The offshore portion will house the world’s largest oceanographic research lab in addition to worker and investor residences. MBS and the Saudi government are opening up applications for work, research, and development by different inventors and investment companies.
The overall goal of OXAGON is that this hub of innovation, research, and technology will give birth to new technologies in desired fields. The primary fields for innovation will be tech related, from AI-powered healthcare systems and devices to AI-powered cars. Additionally, OXAGON, along with NEOM, prioritizes sustainability and a human-centered urban environment, making the community walkable and serviced by eco-friendly forms of transportation such as high-speed rails, cycles, and even air taxis.
Finally, OXAGON will host the first ever fully automated logistical port running between the two halves. This port will be entirely powered by AI, and due to the proximity both to its manufacturing district on land as well as the Suez Canal within the region, it will significantly cut logistic costs and issues out of the equation. This initiative has several benefits, but the most obvious will be the supply chain efficiency for any company able to research and manufacture tech within OXAGON.
The most exciting and ambitious megaproject within NEOM will be the infamous super-city “The Line.” Marketed as a revolution in civilization by NEOM, The Line is proposed to be a 100-mile-long 200-meter-wide automated city capable of housing 9 million residents. This 100-mile by 200-meter strip will be sandwiched between two 500m tall mirror skyscrapers, meant to run parallel to each other the entire length of the line.
“THE LINE is a civilizational revolution that puts humans first, providing an unprecedented urban living experience while preserving the surrounding nature. It redefines the concept of urban development and what future cities should look like,” via NEOM’s official press release.
The Line has a goal of being built with humans and sustainability as a priority as opposed to urban environments that held the main goal of increasing business and industry, leading to the issues of urban sprawling. To do this, The Line will be 100% carbon neutral and is meant to run on wind, solar, and, most importantly, hydrogen energy. To do this, MBS has contracted a US-based company Air Products and Chemicals, to build a massive 5 billion USD green hydrogen plant. If Air Products and Chemicals can deliver on the deal, the green hydrogen plant would be the largest in the world.
The Line is also meant to increase walkability for its residents as it will be impossible for cars to access the city. To do this, The Line will be segmented into modules containing 80,000 residents who will all be within a maximum of five minutes of walking distance to all needed amenities.
The Line will also have three levels to its structure. A top-level pedestrian level, where residents can walk to amenities and live. A middle-service level where residents will have further access to amenities and many of whom will work in. The final bottom level will be a freight and public transportation level, with freight trains to supply the businesses and amenities and a high-speed rail system capable of traveling residents from one end of The Line to the other within 20 minutes.
Finally, The Line will have a robust maintenance and safety system of AI-powered tech that will upkeep the city, as well as surveil the three levels and adapt the city to better meet the needs of its residents.
NEOM’S FACTS AND ISSUES
While NEOM is an ambitious project aimed at completing the goals aligned with the Saudi Vision 2030, the megaproject has several issues, such as funding.
The entire project of NEOM is set to cost a whopping 500 billion USD, with 312 billion coming from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund after funds were routed to the PIF via a sale of Saudi Aramco shares. MBS is continuing to seek investment from foreign funds to pay the rest. Still, if NEOM were to fail as other Saudi mega projects such as the Jeddah Tower and the King Abdullah Economic City, this investment would be hard to come back from. Saudi Arabia’s GDP annually ranges from 600-800 billion USD, and if this project were to fail, MBS would risk pushing The Kingdom into bankruptcy, only worsening its economic position they are in.
There is a bright spot for NEOM, though; if they can successfully pull off the builds of the Trojena and OXAGON regions, they will likely open their economy up significantly to foreign investment, trade, and tourism. To make these projects more attractive to foreign interests, MBS has already stated that NEOM will be a free-trade zone and will operate under tax and legal systems different from the ultra-conservative systems of Saudi Arabia. With Trojena set to open in 2026 and OXAGON and The Line in 2030, respectively, it will only be a matter of time to see the fruits of MBS’s labors and whether or not they move the Saudi Kingdom closer to accomplishing their 2030 goals.
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