“A start-up the size of a country,” is how Saudi Arabia’s futuristic mega-city Neom is being described by Saudi officials, investors, contractors and the like.
The city will take up a whopping 10,000 square miles of rocky desert and empty coastline in the country’s remote northwest Tabuk province, where the kingdom will look to attract the world’s brightest and best.
However, the seaside of the northwestern province was considered so barren that the only identifiable resources were sunlight and an infinite supply of salt water.
Yet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t see a coarse wasteland when he landed in his helicopter there years ago. But a future where human civilization and progress can be propelled forward in every sense of the word.
What is Neom?
Neom is a portmanteau of the Greek word neos, meaning “new,” and mustaqbal, the Arabic word for “future.”
With a price tag of more than $500 billion, as well as seeking foreign investments to fully foot the bill of its ambitious goals, the project is expected to be a crossover between Silicon Valley’s innovations, Hollywood’s entertainment aura, mixed with a French Riviera vacation spot.
Neom will be 33 times the size of New York City and nearly the size of Belgium, more than one million people will work and reside within it and will include a number of towns, ports, and research centers.
“The city will drive the future of human civilisation, energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological and digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media and entertainment,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz described the project to reporters.
What this means for the Kingdom
According to reports by Al Arabiya, Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman and Neom CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr signed the memorandum of understanding in several energy fields as of late August.
This shows the kingdom’s relentless push and unwavering willingness to achieve the monumental goals they’ve set for themselves as put forth through its 2030 Vision; as well as diversifying Saudi Arabia’s economy away from its dependency on oil and more into renewable energy and human capital.
“We all hope that as citizens, the Neom project will accomplish all its goals and on time…and if we want to do so, we have no choice but to be up to the work and ambition required for this project,” Prince Abdul Aziz told reporters.
Neom aims to produce 15 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, which is equivalent to a quarter of the country’s electricity consumption at peak times, the minister added.
Neom, which is coastline bordering Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt aims to lure serious international investments to make it the number one destination for both work and pleasure worldwide.
This futuristic mega-city, however, isn’t the only plan on the horizon. The kingdom will also look to push multibillion-dollar plan to erect a handful of new cities in the hopes of kick-starting the country’s economy into the future.
The developments include a sports and entertainment city outside Riyadh, luxury tourism resorts spread across an archipelago of pristine Red Sea islands and an ancient Arabian trading post turned wildlife reserve called al-Ula.
From an infrastructure perspective, Neom Co., the developer of the smart-city, has chosen US-based engineering and construction firm Bechtel to design, build, and manage the construction efforts of its transportation, as well as its power and water infrastructures.
“Neom is one of the most complex projects in living memory and we are proud to be part of it. The vision for a futuristic, innovative and sustainable ecosystem is unique and bold, and we believe Neom will change the way new cities are developed by future generations,” Brendan Bechtel, Chairman and Chief Executive of the family-owned company, said in a press release.
Bechtel has long experience of working with the kingdom, beginning with the construction of the Trans-Arab Pipeline in 1947.
In addition, Neom Co. also signed a number of contracts with Saudi telecom company STC to establish and lay the ground work for a 5G network, as well as a $5bn partnership with US-based Air Products and Saudi ACWA Power to develop the world’s largest green hydrogen and green ammonia plant, to be operational in 2025.
While in parallel, Aecom has also been awarded a contract to work the city’s general design, alongside a plethora of environmental and geotechnical support.
“We are excited to be playing such a pivotal part in delivering one of the world’s largest and most complex infrastructure projects,” said Lara Poloni, president of Aecom in a press release.
She added that with Neom being the centerpiece of Saudi Vision 2030, it will become one of the world’s leading destinations to attract talent and investment and drive economic change in the kingdom.
Seeing that Neom will be constructed in one of the world’s driest climates, the city’s architects are planning to draw on “cloud seeing” technology to create artificial clouds, producing more rainfall than naturally possible in the desert.
Also, plans have surfaced that include the construction of an artificial mood drone that would light up during night-time, as well as showcasing live-streamed images of outer space.
The project also aims at constructing a Jurassic Park style island filled with a myriad of robot dinosaurs, alongside a vast stretch of glow in the dark sand on its coastline.
It’s estimated it will take around 7 to 10 years to finish the project.
This smart city will aim to lead the world when it comes to healthcare, education by using holograms to give classes and quality of life.
At the moment, there’s nothing but golden sands and gorgeous coastline on the Saudi stretch of the Red Sea, and currently construction is underway to build an airport and resort.
What about Covid-19?
This is where the uphill battle begins.
The kingdom suffered harshly due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after introducing tourist visas for the first time back in September, the country was forced to close its borders to the most vital source of tourism income: religious visitors.
While Saudi Arabia’s economy is the biggest in the Arab world, the country has been hit hard by coronavirus. The kingdom has also had to deal with falling oil prices sparked by an acrimonious dispute with Russia.
However, steps taken by the Saudi government to keep the momentum going has been accelerated showing a strong fortitude toward getting the job done regardless of any hurdle that may come along.
Despite the difficulties ahead, the kingdom will see to it that the Neom dream will not turn into a distant mirage within the covid-19 era.