Remember building a dreamy city where robots take care of your chores, where tech gets you sorted out, where you work
hard , party harder and where you get to chill out with the coolest people on the planet? Well, Saudi Arabia has decided that it shouldn’t be a just a dream anymore and has molded it into an ambitious project of a futuristic city. Enter Neom.
Neom Logo | The Meaning of Neom
NEOM is an abbreviation used for ‘New Enterprise Operating Model’. It is a combination of two words, one from Greek, “Neo” (meaning new) and the other from Arabic, “M” which stands for the Arabic word “Mostaqubal”, meaning the future. Hence, Neom translates as ‘New Future’. Now that we’ve dabbled with etymological sallying which makes everything seem fancy, lets get to the heart of the matter shall we?
Neom is a whopping $500 billion city project announced in 2017 by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). This high-tech city will be located on Saudi Arabia’s northwest coast, along the Red Sea. This location has been chosen because of its mild climate. It’s location has been fixed in order to ensure that no other city in the world is farther than 8 hours of a direct flight. Talk about foresightedness!
Neom is being built in an area of 26,500 square km in Tabuk Province. This is roughly the size of Belgium and almost 35 times the size of New York City. So much for HUGE ambitions!
And yes, Here’s a Sneak Peek Into the Future.
Because, Why Not?
Neom & The Line
As a majority of the Saudi Arabian economy depends on oil production, the Saudi government sees it as a threat to future sustainability. Therefore, to maintain the economic wellbeing of the country, the government has come up with an alternative – and a grand one at that. This city is a part of Vision 2030- Diversifying the economy and reducing its dependency on oil.
Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should 7 million people die every year due to pollution? Why should we lose 1 million people every year due to traffic accidents? And why should we accept wasting years of people’s lives commuting?
The Line is a part of the NEOM project and is in line with one of its chief objectives – to protect and preserve the environment. This city will entirely be powered by renewable and clean energy sources.
According to the Chief Environmental Officer of NEOM, Dr Paul Marshall, there will be minimal impacts on the environment while developing the city. As the country already has a history of overgrazing and overfishing, it surely doesn’t make sense to take further environmental risks. According to him, there are two ways to enjoy this fresh mode of sustainability. Firstly, this may be done by harmoniously living with the environment : by building the infrastructure not upon nature but around it. Another way can be leveraging the already existing beautiful landscapes of the region like the old rocks, the magnificent seashore and colorful corals.
The Vision of Neom | A Real-Life Wakanda?
The vision of the crown prince and the preparations for this humungous project to shape a completely new city with advanced techniques has been named as a real-life Wakanda (a fictional city in the Marvel Universe). International consultancies such as Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey and Oliver Wyman have been roped in to draw up the plans for the city. It is expected that the city will be open to its residents by 2025. It’ll be a zero-carbon city and would be set up as a ‘civilizational plan’. Everything is supposedly designed to be accessible in a 5-minute walk, discouraging the excessive use of cars. The city will also have top-quality schools and hospitals with the latest healthcare facilities.
Further, it is also probable that this city will be the largest city in the world by GDP. It will be an autonomous city, which will have its own tax and labor laws and also its own judicial system. It is suggested that NEOM will have a progressive legal system and it will be compatible with the international norms and will be conducive to economical growth. It is also designed to attract the best talent across the globe. So, if you are a skilled professional with sought-out skills looking for a job, Neom may be the place to head towards. After it gets ready, of course.
Expanding its ambitions, the government states that this city will have flying cars, artificial rain through cloud seeding, robotic dinosaurs and guess what – a giant fake moon!
The city will also have the usual, day-to-day necessities like free high-speed internet called the ‘Digital Air’, bullet trains, hyperloops. Obviously
The city is being built as a SEZ (Special Economic Zone), where the first phase, the construction of the Airport and a resort has already been completed. As the city is emerging as the central power in the Kingdom, most of the cabinet meetings were held in a palace in NEOM since Covid-19 struck. It is believed that robots may exceed the city’s population of humans in near future.
According to Joseph Bradley, Future of Tech and Digital Sector Head in NEOM, this will be a cognitive city. He adds that the difference between a smart city and a cognitive city is that the former leverage less than 1% of data to create and change the lives of the people whereas the latter one uses 90% of data case to leverage the utilization of creation and changes the lives of the people.
He states there are three major objectives of the digital sector of NEOM are Connectivity, Computation and Data. Further, he also states that the city will follow an open and inclusive approach, where the digitization won’t divide but will instead connect people to the fullest and will result in sustainable use of resources.
Neom : The Future of Water, Mobility & Energy
NEOM aspires to be the global leader in renewable-energy powered desalination and full integrated resource recovery seawater treatment (FIRrST). The city integrates desalination and brine processing plants and powers them with sustainable carbon-neutral technologies. The government is building smart water systems powered by renewable energy, delivering high-quality drinking water and recycled water across their network. Smart metering and irrigation, leakage detection, and water quality monitoring will be controlled in real-time.
In the future of energy, as mentioned above, the ecosystem will be free from any carbon generated energy and will mostly use residential energy grid. NEOM will provide the industries and the residents with clean and cheap solar or thermal energy which will produce minimal emission and optimal reliability.
According to Florian Lennert, the head of mobility in NEOM, they will implement a multimodal mobility system that will include high-speed public transit, shared electric and autonomous mobility but also electric urban air mobility. Walking and cycling will be encouraged to ensure zero-carbon emission and an advanced urban underground public transport will be built to achieve the same.
These technological revolutions will also lead to great employment opportunities in various sectors. It will become a hub of innovations and emerging talents can leverage the Neom ecosystem to research, incubate and commercialize pioneering technologies to accelerate human advancement.
A Utopia in the Making?
Although NEOM seems like a dream come true, it is still doubtful whether this dream will actually materialize. After the outbreak of COVID-19, the stability in global economy has taken a hit. There may be adverse turns in the financial returns on investments undertaken in this project. Also, the plan has certain technologies that do not exist currently on scale like robotic servants, dinosaurs and flying cars, etc.
Also, while the government is banking on people moving in from the rest of the world, many may not be very enthusiastic to do so, considering the socio-political factors involved. Some of the citizens sought to “remind” the Saudi administration that there’s no need to spend billion dollars on a new city when the already existing cities need urgent fixing.
Whatever the result may be, the initiative is astonishingly ambitious and inspiring. The ability to take an extremely new turn in the economy of a country requires an iron-will and nerves of steel, which the administration and the government has visibly demonstrated so far. If the project proves to be successful, it will be a completely new take on the world’s global trade and the city may emerge as an economic powerhouse.
Neom, above all, is humanity’s dream for a better future. Will this dream take shape of a reality to become the futuristic oasis that the world thirsts for? Or will it evaporate into the dusty air and seep into the desert sand ? Only time will tell.
For now, the world watches with bated breath as this dream on a desert takes shape of the most awaited city of the future.
By Harshita Pathak