Saudi Arabia unveils plans for £380bn ‘mega-city’

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has unveiled plans for a new, futuristic city stretching along the coastline of the Red Sea, potentially extending into neighbouring Jordan and, via a land-bridge that spans the sea, Egypt.

The city, plans suggest, will cover some 10,200 sq mi (26,500 sq km) and is intended to be a high-tech hub for innovation and alternative energy.

It is to be called NEOM, with Saudi newspaper Al Arabiya stating that the first three characters “NEO” come from the Latin word, meaning “new”, and the fourth character, “M”, standing for the Arabic word “Mostaqbal”, meaning “future”.

In an upbeat statement that bristles with optimism, the Public Investment Fund for Saudi Arabia said that “future technologies” will form the cornerstone for NEOM’s development.

Driverless cars and passenger drones

It also talks of “disruptive solutions for transportation” that will include driverless cars and even passenger drones, and free public wireless high speed internet as a free good called “digital air”.

Lifestyle and governance is at the core of the ethos behind the plans, which also mention “net-zero carbon houses” and a city layout that will encourage walking and cycling, and a patient-centred healthcare system that will “encourage holistic well-being”.

Online connectivity is envisioned as taking centre stage, with talk of “full scale e-governance putting city services at your fingertips” and free continuous online education.

NEOM will have an uninterrupted coastline of more than 468km, overlooking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, with a dramatic mountain backdrop rising to 2,500m to the east.

“A constant breeze leads to mild temperatures,” the government body said, while wind and sun will allow NEOM to be powered “solely by regenerative energy”.

First private zone to cover three countries

The ambitious project will be the first private zone to cover three countries, in this case Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

The vision accords with the deputy crown prince’s strategy for diversifying and reducing the kingdom’s dependence on oil revenue, a finite resource, with next year’s sell-off of Saudi Aramco part of the vision.

The crown prince, pictured above with former US secretary of state John Kerry, has also been seen by some as moderate and reformist, as evidenced by the kingdom’s recent decision to drop the long-standing ban on women driving.

That was seen as part of Vision 2030, a blueprint for modernisation and moves towards a post-oil future that is personally associated with the crown prince, aged 32, who took over the Kingdom’s No. 3 job in April 2015. In June of this year he was named crown prince and next in line to the throne, as well as deputy prime minister, and retaining his role as defence minister.

At its heart Vision 2030 aims to turn a country almost totally reliant on oil into a modern, diversified economy, trading globally in a number of key sectors, over the course of the next 14 years.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eugene Costello
Eugene Costello has been a journalist for some 20 years, and has written for a wide variety of UK and international newspapers and magazines.

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