The Line: A Step Towards the Future or SciFi Fantasy?
Issue 1, Volume 113
Picture living in a mirror-encased, horizontal-skyscraper city with technology straight out of a science fiction novel. This image is the soon-to-be reality in Saudi Arabia’s plans for its upcoming metropolis: The Line. The shockingly ambitious project is an entire city stacked 1,640 feet high, reaching 656 feet wide, and stretching out a staggering 106 miles from near the Red Sea to across the Arabian desert. Housed in mirror glass walls, nine million residents are expected to live in sectioned parts. Organized in three dimensions with amenities stacked atop each other, citizens will have everything they need within a five-minute walk.
One of the most ambitious projects in modern times, The Line is expected to have high-speed rails that will allow passengers to travel from one end to another in 20 minutes, erasing the use of cars and ultimately carbon dioxide emissions. Further, the modern city will function fully on renewable water and energy supplies. This innovative project could be the perfect step toward accommodating the rise in population we’re bound to see in future years. Including the lack of fossil fuels, this system is the ultimate killing of two birds with one stone.
While this utopia presents itself as a huge step toward preventing pressing issues such as overpopulation and climate change, we have to question its feasibility. Critics are doubtful on whether this project is technologically achievable. High-speed rails as the go-to form of transportation sound like a great idea for the environment, but it will be difficult for millions of residents to get around primarily on the subway. While it’s hard to make any promises mechanically, we also have to consider the estimated cost of $500 billion associated with this project. The first phase, lasting until 2030, will cost $319 billion. This amount will have to come from several sovereign wealth funds, regionally and globally.
While the expense of the project is an expected negative, we also have to consider the real motives of the Saudi government. Wanting to stretch beyond the country’s dependency on oil, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has stated that the main purpose of The Line is to attract more tourists into Saudi Arabia and compete with the tourist hotspots of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This goal is why The Line is strategically located between the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa so that 40 percent of the world can travel to it in a three hour flight, making it a future magnet for trade and tourism.
As announced by Bin Salman, The Line is the centerpiece of the futuristic Neom site. Neom will consist of two other uniquely designed cities, Trojena and Oxagon. The Line itself is projected to generate over 380 thousand jobs and increase Saudi Arabia’s GDP by $48 billion. Though it’s completely natural for a leader to advance his country’s economy and people, these projects may seem rather gilded in the sense that their promotion focuses on beneficial purposes while the underlying reasons are in the capitalistic region.
Another factor to consider is Saudi Arabia’s heavily criticized human rights record and the current state of the country. From Saudi Arabia’s oppressive laws and attitude toward women and homosexuality to the recent mass execution of 81 men in one day, Neom’s projected messages of living revolution and unparalleled social promotion seem contradictory to the country’s previous actions. This disparity leads us to wonder how righteously the thousands of workers in this massive project will be treated. On top of millions of manual laborers, 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 34 million citizens live in poverty. It would seem more reasonable for the government to spend the $500 billion funding to improve the lives of their residents or better already existing infrastructure. With the state-of-the-art technology shown in the plans for The Line, it appears only the rich will be able to afford the luxury of living there.
However, The Line is not quite the superficial, money-hungry plan to continue systematic oppression that it appears to be. Like most constructions, The Line is an investment for a profit and to bring more people into the country, ultimately boosting the economy. Along with increased trade and tourism, the government could use these profits to perhaps improve other aspects that they initially didn’t have expendable money for, such as poverty and manual labor. While Saudi Arabia’s past records are not defendable, this project could be a turning point. They can’t expect to pull off such an engineering feat and gain the public’s favor if they do it in an immoral way. Regardless of the structure, Neom plans for a city that the average citizen will be able to live in. Like other cities, it’s reasonable to assume that not everyone will necessarily be able to afford the higher tech. Considering there are to be nine million residents, the project won’t be successful if it is meant for only the elite.
It’s important that we look at the bigger impact The Line could have. Climate change is certainly not an unknown issue, and we’ve hardly seen any major changes to the mass amounts of greenhouse gas emissions caused by cities. Despite the complications that The Line presents, it still stands as a very unique blend of economic and technological advancement. Looking beyond the troubles of viability, money, and government, this linear city is a conceptual revolution to how humans could live on this planet. Focusing on the climate and sustainability, we can take a step forward in urban living, renewable sources, as well as healthy economic actions. Construction has already begun with plans for 1.5 million people to live there by 2030. Whether Saudi Arabia achieves the highly ambitious goals and puts together all the complex parts of the engineering plan is yet to be seen. Hopefully, we are able to overcome the difficulties and make this “blueprint for tomorrow in which humanity progresses without compromise to the health of the planet” a brilliant reality.