$500bn investment, 9m residents, 100% renewable energy: Mohammed bin Salman unveils Saudi city of future

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The projected zero-carbon city of Neom being built in Saudi Arabia will have vertical layers of buildings for work, living and leisure stretching for 170 kilometres over a futuristic landscape, the Kingdom’s Crown Prince has declared.

Unveiling The Line, a primary feature of the $500bn project, Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the flagship development will be partly financed through a public listing in the country’s stock exchange in two years’ time, and would be subject to its own autonomous legal system.

The flotation, he continued, “will add a trillion riyals ($266bn) to the Saudi stock market value. At least 1.2 trillion at the beginning and overall will increase after project completion to exceed 5 trillion”. The ultimate aim was to make the Saudi stock market, currently ranked seventh internationally, “one of the largest stock markets on the planet.”

Prince Mohammed stated that in the future all ventures in which the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund is an investor will be listed on the stock market. The government seeks to raise 500 billion riyals of capital in 2027 and using the market to raise up to another 300 billion riyals for Neom.

The first phase of the development, which includes a large economic zone, will cost 1.2 trillion riyals ($319.39bn), with half the funding coming from the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said the Crown Prince.

The Line will eventually accommodate 9 million people (NEOM)

Speaking to journalists in Jeddah at an event showcasing The Line, Prince Mohammed held that the new city will make seismic changes to the way people will live in the future. It will be an “environment free from roads, cars and emissions”, with “100 per cent renewable energy”.

The Crown Prince said he saw the 26,500 square kilometre development on the Red Sea as a cosmopolitan centre which will be the home for more than nine million people with a new way of life. It will also seek to provide an answer, he held, to the massive environmental problems being faced by the world.

“The Line is an affirmation of our firm commitment to presenting a project to the whole world. Neom is a place for those who dream of a better tomorrow,” said Prince Mohammed.

Residents will have access to all facilities within a five-minute walk (NEOM)

“We cannot ignore the liveability and environmental crises facing our world’s cities, and Neom is at the forefront of delivering new and imaginative solutions to address these issues.

“The city’s vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities. The designs of The Line embody how urban communities will be in the future in an environment free from roads, cars and emissions.”

The Line is designed as a series of “modules” for different urban uses, each 200 metres wide, sandwiched between two 500 metre high mirrored exterior facades that extend to form a 170km line across the map of Neom. The plans include hanging pathways, swimming lanes, gardens and even a stadium 330 metres above the ground.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude oil exporter, aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060. One aspect of living in Neom, said Prince Mohammed, was that cars would not be needed for travel. “If you have money, you should raise the bar, be adventurous, be innovative, be different,” he wanted to stress. “Since we are doing it from nothing, why should we copy normal cities? I believe it’s going to be the best liveable area – by far – in the whole planet.”

The site will be created by a team of world-renowned architects and engineers (NEOM)

As well as radical architecture and an environmental reset, Neom will have its own autonomous legal system, unconfined to the Saudi judicial structure, with investors playing a key role in drafting it. Work on this, said the Crown Prince, was well underway, with some details due to be presented next year.

Discussions will be held with neighbouring countries to try and ensure that developments across the border do not jar with the intrinsic aesthetics that Neom is striving to establish.

The Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, is the main contributor to the project. But the Crown Prince said he expected that Saudi entrepreneurs would also want to contribute to one of the most exciting architectural developments taking place currently in the world.

Despite reports of delays to the project in the international media, Prince Mohammed maintained that the first phase of the project is due to finish by 2030 with “1.5 million residents, and there will be nine million residents by 2045”.

The Line is only 200 metres wide, 170 kilometres long and 500 metres above sea level (NEOM)

A senior Saudi official present at the event said he understood some of the foreign scepticism about the grand scope of the project. “But this country was built out of the desert, building for the future is part of that heritage, you only find out how far you can go by going forward,” was his argument.

Prince Mohammed’s appearance at the Jeddah Superdome for the Neom presentation came just before he was due to fly to Greece, his first visit to Europe since he travelled to Paris in April 2018. He will hold meetings with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and a joint declaration of strategic cooperation is expected to be signed along with energy deals.

An outer mirror facade will make the structure a distinctive part of the landscape (NEOM)

The Athens trip is due to be followed, say diplomats, by a visit to France to meet Emmanuel Macron, with other possible destinations in Europe and Asia to follow in the near future.

The Crown Prince’s increasing appearance on the international stage follows the recent visit to the Kingdom by Joe Biden. The US President is said to have asked for an increase in Saudi oil production to alleviate escalating energy prices in the US. He did not, it is believed, receive any guarantees, but American officials expect there will be an increase in the future along lines laid by Opec.

This infographic shows how The Line will fit into the wider landscape (NEOM)

“We cannot ignore the livability and environmental crises facing our world’s cities, and NEOM is at the forefront of delivering new and imaginative solutions to address these issues. NEOM is leading a team of the brightest minds in architecture, engineering and construction to make the idea of building upwards a reality,” he said.

“The city’s vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities,” the Prince said. “The designs of The Line embody how urban communities will be in the future in an environment free from roads, cars and emissions.”