Neom — the world’s thinnest and tallest city

A glance into the futuristic plans for a unique city in the Middle East

The year is 2030. A city in the middle of the desert surrounded by nothing but sand and water has just been built and is ready to become home to 9 million people. It is a completely independent and sustainable city in Saudi Arabia that is 170km long and 200m wide. This vertical city has no need for cars, with the only public transport system being a high-speed train from end to end. It is paradise strategically located along the Red Sea, ideal for trade routes while still having access to untouched beaches and coral reefs. Furthermore, the Trojena mountains loom behind the picturesque city, catering to various outdoor activities year-round and creating the ideal playground right outside one’s door.

 Welcome to Neom, a futuristic city that could have been copy and pasted out of a sci-fi movie. It seems too good to be true! How can a city have nature around every corner, the perfect temperature all year round, use 100% renewable energy, and be designed with services only a 5-minute-walk from the front door? This dystopian city has had expert input including from urban planners and environmental scientists to make it a reality. Since they started from scratch, the old way of having winding roads with hours of traffic all trying to funnel into a downtown core is gone. Neom took into consideration past mistakes from cities all over the world and created a new and improved blueprint. A city with no roads or concern of urban sprawl because instead of expanding outward, it rises. Neom is 500m above sea level, making it taller than the Empire State Building, stretching at that height for the whole 170km.

 However, Neom is not without controversy. Many people have questioned whether it is worth the billions of dollars that will be invested into this city, or if that money could be better spent elsewhere. Saudi Arabia’s economic situation is struggling, as there continues to be a decline in oil prices. For some, it can be difficult to justify building Neom, when there is a possibility for diversifying revenue streams which would be more beneficial for the economy. However, it is argued that this city will provide a place for innovation where various sustainable energy sources can be made more accessible and affordable. In fact, Neom hopes to be a leader in many science, technology, and business fields by being a global hub and showcasing its ground-breaking technology. 

The role of religion is likely to play a large role in the development of Neom as a global centre, as investors may not be keen on investing in an ultra-conservative country. This attitude is especially prevalent, considering women were not able to drive cars until 2018.  Although the advertisement for Neom has shown women working alongside men, while some were wearing head scarves and others were not, investors worry that citizens will push back and reject more Western ideals in the development of the city. Although steps have been made in the right direction, social change takes time, and 8 years may not be enough. This futuristic city is not only challenging the boundaries of architecture, but also of societal values and expectations.

 It is a possibility that in 8 years this futuristic city will be opening its doors, however since construction has yet to be started, it is unlikely that such a feat can be completed by 2030. However, I am hopeful that one day I can tick visiting Neom off of my travel bucket list.