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Mohammad Bin Salman, the prince of Saudi Arabia, has put his Vision 2030 in motion through which he intends to shift from an oil-based economy to cleaner and renewable energy sources like solar, wind and hydrogen power. With the search for crude oil alternatives becoming the need of the hour, primarily due to geopolitical tensions amidst Russia and Ukraine, Saudi Arabia plans to facilitate the energy transition by producing green hydrogen. NEOM, the dream of the Saudi prince, is a 500-billion-dollar infrastructure project described as: from the future and to the future. Expected to create 3.8 lakh jobs by 2030 and contribute 48 billion dollars to the economy, this project will act as an economic engine by driving investments.

NEOM, a planned smart city, is being built along the Red Sea coastline in the Tabuk Province in the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia. With an approximate area of 10,600 square kilometres, it is reportedly thirty-three times the size of New York City. NEOM city plans include a network of international airports, and the NEOM Bay Airport has already been built and is operational for its investors and employees. 40% of the world is just six hours away from NEOM, making it the centre of international trade situated at the crossroads of the world. The city will reportedly have its labour laws and a tax structure independent of the kingdom. As claimed by Saudi Arabia, NEOM is a vision of what the new future might look like; a destination for people who dream big and want to be a part of building a new model for sustainable living. Having been described as the world’s most ambitious project by the Saudis, there is immense pressure on the developers to complete the majority of this megaproject by 2030.

NEOM city plans include four regions: Sindalah, The Line, Trojena, and Oxagon. Sindalah is a luxury island destination in the Red Sea curated exclusively for the global yachting community and those looking for exquisite opulence and grandeur. With plans underway to build 3 luxury hotels, an 86-berth marina and 75 offshore buoys for superyachts, beach, sports, and yacht clubs, an advanced technology golf course, spa and wellness centres, and 51 luxury retail outlets in the region, their purpose is to elevate tourist experience and take high-end tourism to new levels.

The Line, termed a revolution in urban living by the Saudis, has drawn significant attention for its bold, audacious, and utopian city plans. A 170-kilometres stretch 500 metres above sea level, with no cars, roads, or carbon emissions fully powered by clean and renewable energy, is a major step in diversifying the kingdom’s economy beyond oil. All amenities will be easily accessible within a five-minute walk along with high-speed rail with an end-to-end journey of 20 minutes. With 95% of the land being preserved for nature, The Line will be built on a footprint of 34 kilometres eventually accommodating 9 million people, leading to a reduced infrastructure footprint and the creation of unprecedented efficiency in city functions. The main aim of this vertical garden city is to ensure that the community and nature coexist in harmony.

Trojena, situated in the heart of NEOM, promotes year-round sustainable tourism, capitalising on the different climates. Offering year-round outdoor skiing and adventure sports amidst its stunning mountains, Trojena will be a place unlike anything else on the planet shaping possibilities of global travel.

Oxagon, a reimagined industrial region, is set out to act as the ”catalyst for economic growth and diversity” by contributing to Saudi Arabia’s trade and commerce as per the Saudi prince. This coastal strip will be a hub for innovation and a global gateway for world trade, enabled by a desalination plant, an oceanographic research centre, an automated and integrated port and supply chain and 100% powered by clean energy.

This megaproject will mark the beginning of a new age in the economic history of Saudi Arabia and the world, with a designed impact on sectors like tourism, manufacturing, energy, education, architecture, health, media, and technology. While this project is being funded by the Saudi government, Public Investment Fund, and local and global investors, it has been surrounded by controversy and scepticism. Reportedly, nearly 20,000 people have to be displaced to build this city. The Huwaitat tribe, who are native to the area, are not against the idea of NEOM itself, but rather the forced expulsion from their historic homeland and subsequent violence. There are a multitude of allegations against the Saudi government for resorting to human right abuses in an attempt to silence dissent. Additionally, numerous employees have been complaining about a toxic work environment. There are also concerns about the collection of personal user data and individual privacy due to the country’s poor human rights record and the use of espionage and surveillance technology. Mohammad Bin Salman signed a 1.7 million-dollar contract with Ruder Finn, a US public relations firm to promote the social development plans of the city and counter the negative publicity surrounding the project.

NEOM is undoubtedly touted as the world’s most ambitious megacity development project. With growing scepticism and controversy around the same, it is perplexing to figure out whether this project is doing more harm than good. Having hired three of the biggest consultancy firms in the world, namely, McKinsey and Co, Boston Consulting Group, and Oliver Wyman, one can say it is going great for the consultants with certainty. Artificial intelligence, bullet trains, zero carbon emissions, Digital Air, holographic teachers, robotic maids, possibly even a giant artificial moon and glow-in-the-dark sand; is this futuristic city a far-fetched plan or simply visionary?

By Purvi Pandita


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