Good Thinking

Introducing Neom, the 500 billion-dollar, ultra-high tech future megacity of Saudi Arabia

The building site for Neom: a futuristic city where the desert meets the Red Sea, with views of Egypt across the water, and plans for a giant bridge to cross the span
The building site for Neom: a futuristic city where the desert meets the Red Sea, with views of Egypt across the water, and plans for a giant bridge to cross the span
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The area earmarked for Neom, on the East coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea
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The area earmarked for Neom, on the East coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea
Neom: desert mountain ranges rise up to 2500 metres above sea level
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Neom: desert mountain ranges rise up to 2500 metres above sea level
Neom: scenic islands will need a bit of fixer-uppering before they becoe tourist destinations
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Neom: scenic islands will need a bit of fixer-uppering before they becoe tourist destinations
Neom: pretty coastline with plenty of small islands
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Neom: pretty coastline with plenty of small islands
Neom: desert mountain ranges by the seaside make for spectacular coastal scenery
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Neom: desert mountain ranges by the seaside make for spectacular coastal scenery
The building site for Neom: a futuristic city where the desert meets the Red Sea, with views of Egypt across the water, and plans for a giant bridge to cross the span
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The building site for Neom: a futuristic city where the desert meets the Red Sea, with views of Egypt across the water, and plans for a giant bridge to cross the span
Neom: spectacular scenery and a cool climate for a gulf state city
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Neom: spectacular scenery and a cool climate for a gulf state city
Location of Neom: current project area is entirely within Saudi Arabia, so presumably in order to span Jordan and Egypt as well, both sides of the gulf will come into play. That leaves a slice of Israeli coastline in the picture as well.
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Location of Neom: current project area is entirely within Saudi Arabia, so presumably in order to span Jordan and Egypt as well, both sides of the gulf will come into play. That leaves a slice of Israeli coastline in the picture as well.

Saudi Arabia is looking toward a post-oil future by sinking some US$500 billion into a massive, ultra-futuristic megacity project it calls Neom (or Neo-Mostaqbal; new future). Saudi Crown Prince Mohhamed bin Salman announced the giant project on Tuesday, a brand new city on the intersection of three countries, where "there is no room for old thinking."

This bold new vision comes with a startling and unequivocal message from Saudi Arabia's next king to its ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics: "We are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives, wasting time dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today."

The area earmarked for Neom, on the East coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea
The area earmarked for Neom, on the East coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea

Neom represents a radical shift in thinking. This giant city will be built to straddle the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, with a total area around 26,500 square kilometres on the East side of the Gulf of Aqaba. The current project map, mind you, shows an area entirely within the Saudi Arabian border. For it to straddle borders, it'll need to include both sides of the gulf – and it's worth noting that Israel owns a tiny slice of that waterfront too, home to the resort town and sea port of Eilat.

Location of Neom: current project area is entirely within Saudi Arabia, so presumably in order to span Jordan and Egypt as well, both sides of the gulf will come into play. That leaves a slice of Israeli coastline in the picture as well.
Location of Neom: current project area is entirely within Saudi Arabia, so presumably in order to span Jordan and Egypt as well, both sides of the gulf will come into play. That leaves a slice of Israeli coastline in the picture as well.

The Neom area is currently almost entirely barren desert, although some 10 degrees cooler than the average Gulf state city, with 460 kilometres of Red Sea coastline (if both sides of the gulf are counted), numerous islands, and a 2500-metre tall mountain range for scenic charm. An airport built here would be less than 8 hours flight for some 70 percent of the world's population.

Neom will operate as its own independent "special zone." It will remain under the Saudi Kingdon's sovereignty, but will have an entirely new set of laws, both judicial and regulatory, developed with the primary purpose of attracting as much global investment, talent and business as possible. Investors will be invited to participate in the drafting of regulations and legislation, and the social side of things can be expected to be much more liberal and globally focused than Saudi Arabia has been known for in recent years. The promotional material shows shadowy images of women with free-flowing hair and nary a hijab to be seen.

Dr. Klaus Kleinfeld, the former Chairman and CEO of Alcoa, Arconic Inc., and Siemens AG has been nominated as CEO of the Neom project.

Neom: pretty coastline with plenty of small islands
Neom: pretty coastline with plenty of small islands

The whole area is a giant blank slate, upon which the Crown Prince wishes to write the future of modern humanity. As such, Neom will be built on cutting-edge technological foundations.

Energy and water

Clean energy is the top of the priority list here; vast solar and wind harvesting power plants are planned. Large-scale energy storage solutions are also on the menu, as well as some kind of desalination program to recover fresh water from the Red Sea.

Transport

Neom may be the first city ever designed with three-dimensional electric commuting in mind. With phase one of the city expected to be complete by 2025, this isn't far out of line with many expectations of when autonomous flying taxis should be ready for commercialization. Road users won't be left behind, either, with a massive King Salman Bridge project planned to connect Asia with Africa.

Food production

Neom is ready to fully adopt the concept of vertical farming to help feed its population in a water, time and space-efficient way, as well as arid and seawater farming and solar-powered greenhouses. Creating a fertile oasis in this dry desert area will be no small challenge.

Neom: desert mountain ranges by the seaside make for spectacular coastal scenery
Neom: desert mountain ranges by the seaside make for spectacular coastal scenery

Key industries

The new city will work hard and design its regulatory framework to attract high-tech businesses, particularly in fields like biotech, advanced and additive manufacturing, robotics, renewable energy and futuristic transport solutions. Flying cars seem to be a key priority, with the Discover Neom website offering developers "a chance to test out inventions like … passenger drones and self-learning traffic systems in a live destination setting."

There's plenty more to dig through: Free, "highest speed" internet for everyone; automated, interactive government services for residents; wave pools; a focus on media, digital content and video game production; huge sports and recreation facilities, with a focus on global events. It's a city that will be built around best practice healthy living guidelines. By 2030, the project team expects Neom to be contributing as much as US$100 million per year back to the Saudi economy, and leading the world in per-capita GDP.

It's a glorious goal, and rarely do we get a chance to see a clean-sheet vision of a future city at this stage; pure idealism, pure futurism, the loftiest of progressive, sustainable goals and the might of an almost inexhaustible chequebook behind it.

But if this is to be Dubai 2.0, there are many lessons to be learned, particularly in how an ultra-futuristic city like this can be built while maintaining dignity, living standards and human rights for the mammoth labour force upon whose backs and by whose hands the city will be built. One hopes an omelette like this can be made with a minimum of broken eggs, that this Elysium can be built without the creation of an impoverished underclass.

Source: Discover Neom

8 comments
mb
I think more research needs to be done on this and the article updated, before proclaiming that it's going to be a secular state. There's quite a clear clause in the literature that the state is subject to sovereign laws; what that refers to is unclear.
McDesign
I don't think that the world's need for oil for transport will last long enough to finance this.
BrianK56
Sounds like this will be a glorious place to live.
Roger Aikins
The need for oil will not go away in our lifetime or your children's lifetime. Hate to break it to you
Derek Howe
Roger Aikins - Keep telling yourself that. 5 years ago I bought an electric weed wacker, 3 years ago an electric snow blower, 2 years ago an electric mower, and this year an electric car. Everything is going electric, the only gas I use is in my work van, which will probably take 5 years before that goes electric. The longer you keep your head in the sand, the more you miss.
christopher
@Derek - and every bit of all that junk you bought was mined, transported, and assembled off the back of oil - and look around, there's 7.6 billion people who, unlike you, don't own any of your electric luxuries, but they do still want to move around, eat, stay warm, and have babies. The harder you shut your eyes to what you don't want to see, the less you comprehend of reality!
MK23666
Roger AND Derek are right. Oil will always be used, but it will be reserved for other uses and burning it as fuel won't be one of them.
ih8aloss
They will get as far on that project as they did with solar development back in 2010 and with the Desertec project, ALL TALK NO ACTION!
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