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What is Saudi Arabia’s eco-friendly city (The Line)?

In this article we explore The Line, Saudi Arabia’s innovative, eco-friendly city project, delving into its sustainability claims and whether or not they stand up to scrutiny.
Green News
2023-12-08T00:00:00.000Z
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Map of Saudi Arabia

The Line, Saudi Arabia's groundbreaking eco-friendly city, stands as a testament to futuristic urban development. Situated in Neom, this innovative project stretches 170 kilometres and is designed to operate without roads, cars, or emissions, running entirely on renewable energy. Emphasising environmental sustainability, The Line aims to preserve 95% of its natural surroundings, offering a visionary approach to urban living where nature and technology coexist in harmony. However, the question remains: can these lofty ideas truly materialise into reality, and do the project's environmental claims stand up to scrutiny?  

👉 In this article we explore The Line, Saudi Arabia’s innovative, eco-friendly city project, delving into its sustainability claims and whether or not they stand up to scrutiny.

What is The Line?

No roads, cars or emissions, it will run on 100% renewable energy and 95% of land will be preserved for nature. People’s health and wellbeing will be prioritised over transportation and infrastructure, unlike traditional cities.

This utopian-sounding city is called The Line. A smart city that is currently under construction in Neom in Saudi Arabia. 170 kilometres long, towering 500 meters above sea level, and stretching only 200 meters wide, The Line crosses through desert valleys and mountains to reach the Red Sea. It promises to redefine urban living and challenge the very idea of what a city looks like. 

The impressive project will eventually house 9 million people despite being constructed on a reduced footprint of only 34 square kilometres. With an ideal climate all year round, residents will be able to access daily essentials in no more than a five-minute walk and travel from end to end by high-speed rail in only twenty minutes.

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Why is The Line being developed?

The Line is part of Saudi Vision 2030 (also referred to as Project 2030). A government project that was launched in 2016 by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it aims to diversify the country’s economy, culture, and society. 

The country is currently highly dependent on oil and gas with 74% of its budget linked to oil exports, and 30 to 40% of the country’s GDP stemming from oil revenue. Decreasing this reliance on oil is one of the country’s long-term goals. The Saudi government wants to diversify its sources of revenue as well as create more employment opportunities by developing the country’s private sector. 

Saudi Vision 2030 has three main focuses: to become “the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds”, to become a key player in global investment, and to develop into a hub connecting Afro-Eurasia. Under the umbrella of this vision, the Saudi Government announced plans to create a new urban area in the north of the Red Sea called Neom. The mega project involves the development of a floating industrial complex, a global trade hub, tourist resorts, and The Line. 

The Saudi government has pledged 500 billion USD for the city's construction, to be provided by the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as local and international investors. And in return for this investment, the Saudi government has stated that the project will create 460,000 new jobs, promote economic development, and add $48 USD to the domestic GDP by 2030.

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The Line in more detail

If you look up the concept artwork for The Line you’ll see two towering, slick, mirrored buildings with an outdoor space in between, stretching across the horizon. On either side, it is surrounded by desert. Unlike any other city on Earth, it looks like something out of a science fiction movie.  

The Line claims to revolutionise city living and is structured around a variety of city ideals:

Unparalleled access to nature 

The Line aims to respect its surroundings and to preserve 95% of nature within Neom. It will achieve this by being incredibly dense and tall - with nine million residents the city will have an average population density of 260,000 people per square kilometre. To put this into perspective the current most densely populated city is Manila, with a population of 44,000 people per square kilometre. 

The city’s design means that urban sprawl is avoided and with a vertical city garden all residents will have access to nature within just a few minutes walk. 

Clean air for everyone 

The Line will produce no carbon dioxide emissions and will operate on 100% renewable energy (this includes the operation of its industries). The city has also been designed in such a way that roads, cars, and other unnecessary infrastructure are completely eliminated. 

Nature is also carefully integrated into the design of the city in an effort to enhance air quality. 

Spend more time with loved ones

In addition to optimizing nature and eliminating roads and urban sprawl, The Line also prioritises making daily essentials accessible to citizens. All necessary amenities will be available in under a five-minute walk. 

End-to-end transportation will also allow residents to traverse the length of the city in only twenty minutes and automated services, powered by AI, will increase efficiencies helping to reduce time wasted on commuting or waiting for services. 

A perfect climate all year round

Sunlight, shade, and ventilation have been carefully considered to optimize the climate within the city all year round. Green spaces have also been prioritised to enhance the living conditions of city residents. 

It’s intended that The Line will run entirely on renewable energy. Artificial technology will be used to monitor the city and predictive data models will work to continuously enhance the lives of citizens. 

World-class quality of life 

The city hopes to attract some of the “best and brightest” and will offer a one-of-a-kind social and economic experimentation. Without traffic and pollution, and alongside world-class preventative care it’s hoped that residents will have extended lifespans. 

A place to prototype business

Built to prioritise humans, the city will utilise smart technology to predict and react to what residents need. With the dense design of the city human experiences will be richer and business opportunities more abundant. 

Environmental solution to urbanism

The Line’s transport system will be 100% sustainable and without pollution or wait time. With short commutes, residents will also have more time for leisure. Salaries will also be optimised as the city eliminates the need for expenses such as cars, car insurance, fuel, etc. 

A community inventing the future

Technology is being used to provide advanced planning and logistics when it comes to the construction of the city. The city is also going to be built in a modular fashion and the total structure will be made up of 135 modules, each one 800 meters in length and 500 meters tall. 

Excavation work has already started for the construction of The Line and the first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by 20230.

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What are The Line’s environmental credentials?

On the official website of The Line it’s claimed that the city will be zero-carbon, running entirely on renewable energy and preserving 95% of land for nature. But how exactly do they claim this can be achieved? 

According to The Line’s website and press releases a dedicated research team has been assigned to ensure that the city is constructed using only the greenest construction materials possible. Supply chain and operational emissions will also be carefully considered to ensure that the environmental footprint is as low as possible. 

The city itself will be run entirely on renewables - or at least that’s the plan. Energy will be sourced from the sun and wind power. Additionally, The Line will also become a major production site for hydrogen. A contract has been signed to create the world’s largest green hydrogen plant that will generate more than 650 tons of hydrogen per day and 1.2 million tons of ammonia per year. The plant is anticipated to come online by 2025 and will save more than 3 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Additionally, it’s been claimed that the project will be backed up by carbon capture and storage technologies and that carbon offsetting will also help to eliminate any unavoidable emissions. 

The city's impact on nature and the environment has also been considered in the design of the city itself. The fact that it’s being built up instead of sprawling out into the landscape means that the building will not impact the region's nature in the way that the construction of a regular city would. 

The project also plans to treat the glass facade of the building to prevent birds from flying into the city. The migratory patterns of different species of birds have also been considered to minimise any risk. 

Does The Line match up to reality?

The Line, with its breathtaking vision of a futuristic, eco-friendly city, captures the imagination as a commendable and ambitious undertaking. Yet, this begs the question: Can these lofty ambitions truly be materialised into reality?

Unrealistic designs?

Many experts point out that turning The Line's futuristic designs from drawings into real buildings could be a tall challenge. For example, creating living spaces high up on ledges might not only be difficult to build but could also break safety laws and regulations. 

Additionally, the city's single, long design might cause issues with wind flow. In a city so tall and narrow, the wind could flow through it in ways that might be uncomfortable or even harmful to the people living there.

Carbon footprint

One of the biggest issues with The Line's plan to be carbon-neutral (which means it wouldn't add any carbon dioxide to the atmosphere) is that building something so huge requires a lot of materials like glass, steel, and concrete. And although the project purports that these will be “low-carbon materials” experts contend that it’s not possible to construct a 500-metre tall building using low-carbon options. 

The reality is that these materials will take a lot of energy to make and that this energy will likely come (at least in part) from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide. So, even though The Line aims to be eco-friendly, its construction is likely to contribute significantly to carbon emissions. Some experts have estimated that the project could contribute as much as 1.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. 

Another ironic point to note is that a lot of the financing for building The Line comes from profits made through the production of fossil fuels.

Human rights and privacy issues

Digital rights experts have highlighted concerns about surveillance and privacy in The Line, largely due to its heavy reliance on data and AI. The city's technologically advanced infrastructure, designed for efficient management and control, could potentially enable widespread surveillance, raising alarms given Saudi Arabia's history of monitoring dissent. 

Additionally, the project's development involves the displacement of indigenous tribes, notably the Howeitat tribe. The construction of The Line necessitates their eviction from ancestral lands, leading to the loss of cultural heritage and community upheaval. This situation is further exacerbated by reports of strict penalties for those who oppose these evictions. 

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The Line - the city of the future?

As The Line progresses towards its ambitious completion date of 2045, it stands as a beacon of potential for urban development worldwide. This futuristic city promises not only to redefine the concept of urban living but also to set a new standard for sustainability in a world increasingly conscious of environmental impacts. 

While the journey towards realising such an ambitious vision is fraught with challenges, the success of The Line could inspire a global shift in how cities are designed and built.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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