Saudi Arabia has unveiled the design for its ambitious urban project “The Line,” touted as a one-construction city in the desert that will span 106 miles and eventually house 9 million people.
As part of the Neom project, years after the grand plan was completed, the proposed futuristic city will be located in the northwest of the Gulf country near the Red Sea, according to an announcement by the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The line is a proposed 200 m wide (656 ft) building that acts as a vertical city, designed to sit 500 m (1,640 ft) above sea level. According to the press release, it will be spread over 34 square kilometres (13 sq mi).
Though details are scarce, those behind the design claim The Line will run entirely on renewable energy, with no roads, cars or emissions. High-speed rail will connect sections of The Line, the press release adds.
Critics have cast doubt on whether the project is technologically feasible, while others have described the vision unveiled in a flashy promo video as “dystopian.”
However, Saudi Arabia continues to be plagued by criticism over its human rights record. In March, 81 men were executed in the biggest mass execution in decades. Meanwhile, according to a US intelligence report, bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince denied that he ordered Khashoggi’s murder but has said he bears responsibility amid widespread international condemnation. “This was a heinous crime,” bin Salman said in an interview with CBS in 2019.
“But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”And while the Saudi government has introduced periodic labour reforms, their limited nature and lax enforcement have seen exploitative and dangerous practices continue for the migrant worker population.
According to Human Rights Watch, millions of migrant workers fill mostly manual, clerical, and service jobs in Saudi Arabia, more than 80% of the private sector workforce. The group has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s visa sponsorship system, known as kafala.” Over the past decade, other Gulf states have also embarked on reform of their notorious kafala systems, with most introducing more significant reforms than those of the Saudi authorities,” stated a Human Rights Watch report on the country’s most recent labour reforms in March 2021.
Designs for the mirrored skyscraper mark the latest development in Saudi Arabia’s Neom project, a mega-development spanning three countries which began construction in 2019. The metropolis will purportedly be powered by clean energy and run with the aid of artificial intelligence. Robot maids, flying taxis, and a giant artificial moon headline as features of a promised tech paradise.
“The designs … will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities and create a model for nature preservation and enhanced human livability. The Line will tackle the challenges facing humanity in urban life today and will shine a light on alternative ways to live,” bin Salman said in the press release.
The Neom project is backed by $500 billion from the Saudi government and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund chaired by bin Salman and local and international investors. Initially scheduled for 2025, delays have pushed Neom’s completion date back by a further five years, but the crown prince insists the ambitious project remains on track.