Overview:

Saudi Arabia is planning the development of a green, vertical city in the desert. Will this make the kingdom a tourist destination?

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Saudi Arabia is attempting a massive leap into the future of urban living with The Line, a city contained in a single massive building 105 miles long, a third of a mile high, and 600 feet wide.

Situated at the edge of the Red Sea, the unprecedented structure will be enclosed on all sides by massive mirrored exterior walls and house up to nine million residents.

The design consists of individual walkable “nodes” or neighborhoods, allowing most residents to access all needed services within a five-minute walk. One of the biggest draws: The Line will have no cars or roads, relying instead on high-speed rail to move residents greater distances, including end to end in 20 minutes. The project makes use of 100% renewable energy with a zero carbon footprint.

Saudi Arabia has already started building on the project and plans for 1.5 million people to begin living in The Line by 2030.

“The designs revealed today for the city’s vertically layered communities will challenge the traditional flat, horizontal cities and create a model for nature preservation and enhanced human livability,” said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Some experts have likened the planned Saudi city to living on another planet. “This solution is a little bit like wanting to live on Mars because things on Earth are very messy,” said Felipe Pardo of the New Urban Mobility Alliance. Complex urban plans have often “created new urban settings where problems have also arisen,” he said. “This seems impossible, greatly limited, or just plain artificial.”

The city is part of Saudi Arabia’s Neom development project, which aims to make the kingdom a global tourism hotspot. This ambition is complicated by the Saudi Crown Prince’s strained relations with the United States after President Biden accused the head of the kingdom of bearing responsibility for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 murder.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prominent oil exporters, and onlookers will be watching The Line to see how green projects perform within a kingdom heavily invested in fossil fuels.

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.