Imagine a 100-mile-long emission-free smart city, that too, even without demolishing its surrounding nature, which is just two 2 minutes away from any point of the city. Does that sound like a city from a sci-fi movie or too futuristic to be true? Well, it is not.
In January 2022, the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman announced a mind-boggling plan for the country's own futuristic city called The Line. Over the years, numerous countries and companies have been grappling with building a city of the future – Songdo in South Korea, Quayside in Toronto, and Smart Singapore, to name a few.
Now it's time for the Saudi to utilise cutting-edge tech and modern architecture to redefine urbanisation. The core concept of this linear city is that, instead of communities sprawling outward from a central location, they would be built vertically and arranged in a line, as the name suggests.
The Saudi government says the line will run on 100% clean energy and make extensive use of sensors and AI to manage the city's services. All of this is supposed to be nestled in the pristine natural landscape of the Tabuk province with minimal impact on the environment.
Using only renewable energy, the futuristic city will function without any need for roads or automobiles. The straight-line infrastructure makes it possible to travel end to end, 170 kilometres total, in just 20 minutes while emitting zero carbon – thanks to the high-speed train travelling at a speed of more than 500 kilometres per hour, which is far faster than even the most advanced high-speed rail systems in use today.
The communities will be housed in unique units, and each individual community would be largely self-contained so that almost anything one could need, be it a school, a doctor or a quick meal, would be only a 5-minute walk away. By leveraging artificial intelligence, the smart city claims to provide automated services that will allow one "more time to spend with loved ones."
Devised by world-leading architects and engineers, the proposed designs show a city built between two straight walls perfectly parallel to one another, that are 500 metres tall, that's taller than the Empire State Building. The exterior of the walls is covered with mirrors that reflect the desert landscape where it is situated.
The plan for The Line was announced on January 10, 2021 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). MBS is also the chairman of the Neom project, so he is directly involved with all the plans. Even some critics say that it was an impossible plan from someone who none can say "no" to.
The city will have greenery stretching along the top and an open-air ventilation system. These intelligent solutions create efficiency and a year-round temperate microclimate with natural ventilation, energy and water supplies that are 100% renewable.
The Line offers a new approach to city design that focuses on the concept of zero gravity, which means layering the city's infrastructure vertically so that people can move up and down as well as side to side. Rather than relying solely on high-rise structures, The Line would be built in three layers: a surface-level pedestrian layer full of parks and open spaces, a lower "service" layer consisting of schools, homes, and places of employment and an even deeper transportation "spine" that would consist of "ultra-high-speed transit, making it possible to reach all of one's daily necessities in less than five minutes' walk.
When completed, The Line will be able to house 9 million people and will be built on a footprint of just 34 square kilometres, which is unprecedented in comparison to other cities of a similar capacity. This will mean a reduced infrastructure footprint, creating never-before-seen efficiencies in city functions. The Line is not the only grandiose project undertaken by the Saudi government; it is a part of Saudi's $500 billion Neom mega-city project being built in the country's Tabuk Province.
The city is not being built for the Saudis only. Rather it's going to be a global city, and people all over the world will be welcomed. As a result, this futuristic city will be mostly free from Saudi Arabia's general hardcore religious rules.
Some experts, however, argue that this futuristic metropolis is impossible to achieve. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, a professor of architecture at the University of Miami, questioned the feasibility of the plan for a mile-long "line" with a width that can be walked in only five minutes.
Although the promotional materials claim to build the city on a 'virgin' land, part of the site is home to several communities including members of the Hiawatha tribe. For the ambitious and seemingly vanity project of MBS, at least 20,000 Huwaiti members are being evicted from their homes with no information about where they will relocate.
In addition, those who opposed the government's plans or refused to give up their homes were harassed, abducted, arrested, or killed by Saudi security forces. Abdul Rahim Al Huwaiti, a prominent Huwaiti activist, was killed in April 2020 after posting social media videos about forced eviction. "For the Huwaitat tribe, Neom is being built on our blood, on our bones," an activist and member of the tribe said to the Guardian.
Besides, this promised tech paradise is expected to be ladened with an abundance of sensors, cameras, and face recognition technology that, in such a compact space, may drive government monitoring to almost inconceivable heights, especially given the country's track record of human rights violations.
Critics also raise questions about public mental health while living in such a confined space, that too, between gigantic walls in the middle of the desert. Some define it overall as a 'Dystopian' city.
On the other hand, the Saudi Crown Prince says Neom will primarily be made available for public subscription in 2024, and while it will rely on government support until 2030, it will become self-sustaining after that.
Although surrounded by controversies, The Line will be – if perfectly drawn – a dizzying high point in the middle of the desert for both technology and architecture.