Saudi Arabia has unveiled its newest zero-carbon city project, called "The Line." As its eyebrow-raising name suggests, the unusual metropolis will be built in a straight line more than a hundred miles in length.
The unconventional city will feature "zero cars, zero streets, and zero carbon emissions," according to a statement by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and will be able to house one million inhabitants from around the world.
The proposed city will be the first development at NEOM, a half-trillion dollar green energy business zone in north-western Saudi Arabia that was created with the aim to end Saudi Arabia's economic reliance on oil exports, according to Reuters.
Saudi Arabia has plenty of futuristic ideas for the site as a whole, including an artificial moon, artificial rain, robot maids, as The Wall Street Journal reported in 2019 — not to mention plans for human gene-editing clinics,
Everything in The Line will be "within a five-minute walk of home," bin Salman says. It's still unclear how that's an option in a 100-mile long city, but bin Salman did note that getting from one end to the other would take just 20 minutes.
That's thanks to "The Spine," a high-tech mode of transport that connects individual city modules. This subsurface "Spine layer" takes care of "ultra high-speed transit" and "AI-enabled transport," according to official documentation.
"Throughout history, cities were built to protect their citizens," bin Salman said. "After the industrial revolution, cities prioritized machines, cars and factories over people."
Bin Salman also argued that in the world's most advanced cities, people "spend years of their lives commuting," noting that by 2050 that trend will only double. And with those harrowing commutes, more people will die of pollution.
Having everything within five minutes away will also limit deadly traffic accidents, the prince said.
The plans were met with plenty of skepticism online, with some calling it not much more than a vacuous attempt at attracting international investment.
"Everything about NEOM seems like it was dreamed up by a Saudi official who watched a sci-fi movie on [the Middle East Broadcasting Center] at like 4am and said 'that looks cool, let's throw $100bn at it,'" The Economist reporter Gregg Carlstrom wrote in a scathing tweet.
Human rights advocates also pointed out the double standards.
"THE LINE is Mohammed bin Salman's desperate attempt to rebrand Saudi Arabia's failed NEOM project," tweeted women's rights advocate Reem Abdellatif. "After facing challenges from local tribes & failing to attract investments, [Mohammed bin Salman] once again uses old tricks to solve festering economic issues. Clean house first."
Despite the criticism, construction is set to begin in early 2021 and is expected to contribute $48 billion to the local economy as well as 38,000 jobs.
READ MORE: Saudi Crown Prince launches zero-carbon city in NEOM business zone [Reuters]
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