Imagine a high-tech region the size of Belgium with a linear metropolis, a mountain ski resort, and an industrial city of 9 million people that floats partially on the Red Sea. That’s Neom, Saudi Arabia’s flagship project in the northwestern province of Tabuk.
Announced in 2017, Neom is part of Saudi efforts to diversify its oil-dependent economy. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman calls it a hotbed for new technologies that could revolutionise urban life and encourage foreign investment. It is also billed as a living laboratory where entrepreneurship and innovation will combine to chart a new future.
The project aims to provide incomparable living facilities and the optimum environment for businesses to flourish besides reinventing conservation practices.
It will be a home and workplace for more than a million people keen to embark on a journey of discovery and innovation. With mixed-use communities, research centres, sports venues and entertainment areas and tourist destinations, Neom will be a model for urban sustainability, with new standards for community health, environmental protection and effective use of technology.
Here’s a lowdown on the project.
What is Neom?
Neom is a giga-project being built in 26,500 sq. km of desert, coast and mountains straddling the Jordanian and Egyptian borders in Saudi Arabia’s northwest. It will include an industrial city and a mountain ski resort.
The centrepiece is The Line, a linear city unveiled in 2021. Initially described as a series of walkable communities close to nature, it has since transformed into the current idea to build a megastructure that makes up the entire city, with gardens and parks along the inside.
The Line: the heart of the project
It is a futuristic $500 billion megacity that features two skyscrapers, rising 500 metres and extending across a swathe of desert and mountain terrain. The parallel structures of mirror-encased skyscrapers stretch over 170km to form the heart of the Red Sea project.
The designs of The Line show how urban communities will be in the future in an environment free from roads, cars and emissions, Prince Mohammed was quoted by Saudi Press Agency as saying.
Residents will have all their daily needs within a five-minute walk. The climate within the structure will be ideal round the year, ensuring that residents can enjoy surrounding nature while walking around. They will also have access to outdoor skiing facilities and “a high-speed rail with an end-to-end transit of 20 minutes”, according to a statement.
What is Trojena?
One of the key areas of the project, Trojena is located 50km from the Gulf of Aqaba coast with elevations ranging from 1,500m to 2,600m and covers an area of nearly 60 sq. km. It will offer year-round outdoor skiing and adventure sports activities. An artificial freshwater lake and ‘The Vault’ — a folded village fusing technology, entertainment and hospitality — will be the main gateway to Trojena. The development will also contain a range of homes, including apartments, chalets and mansions, and hotels, besides retail, leisure and dining options.
Trojena aims to become a significant catalyst for economic growth and diversification in Saudi Arabia. In line with Vision 2030’s goals, it will create more than 10,000 jobs and add 3 billion riyals to the kingdom’s GDP by 2030.
Oxagon, the industrial hub
Oxagon will be the industrial hub with seven innovative sectors — sustainable energy, autonomous mobility, water innovation, sustainable food production, health and well-being, technology and digital manufacturing (including telecommunications, space technology and robotics), and modern construction methods.
The octagonal project will be centred around the integrated port and logistics hub. The seven-km wide city aims to generate 70,000 jobs by 2030 and house a population of 90,000.
On completion, it will have the largest cruise terminal in the Red Sea, and 40 per cent of the world will be accessible with a flight of six hours or less.
The green push
The site will be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy and feature “a year-round temperate micro-climate with natural ventilation”, according to a new video. Experts say Neom is well-positioned to harness solar and wind energy, and plans are also afoot for the city to host the world’s largest green hydrogen plant.
As part of its programme to rehabilitate at least 1.5 million hectares of land, Neom has also announced an initiative to return 100 million native trees, shrubs and grasses by 2030 to aid the restoration of degraded land and repair of wildlife habitats.
Population boom and jobs
Neom will have a population of 1.2 million by 2030 before climbing to nine million by 2045, according to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is part of an anticipated nationwide population boom that would be necessary to make Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, an economic powerhouse.
The goal for 2030 is to have 50 million people — half Saudis and half foreigners — living in the kingdom, up from roughly 34 million today. By 2040 the target is 100 million people, he said.
Neom says it would create 380,000 jobs by the end of the decade “whilst providing the ultimate work-life balance”.
Sports hub and climbing destination
Neom will also become a global centre for sports. Earlier this year, the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team visited Neom ahead of the first ABB FIA Formula E World Championship race in Saudi Arabia. Footage showed Stoffel Vandoorne driving the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 along Neom’s Magna Road ahead of the Diriyah E-Prix, the first time an all-electric vehicle had taken to the streets of the mega city. Neom is a Principal Partner of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team.
The city also aims to be a climbing destination: 100 climbing routes of varying difficulty levels were announced in December. It hosted over 80 climbers from Saudi Arabia and the region to trial the routes.
World’s largest coral garden
Plans are afoot to build the world’s largest coral garden at Shushah Island in the Red Sea. The 100-hectare Shushah Island Coral Reefscape, set to be completed in 2025, will showcase reef restoration innovations and accelerate solutions for conserving coral reefs.
It is part of Neom’s vision for developing “in harmony with nature” and accelerating the transition to a more sustainable relationship between people and the planet.
Connectivity to Dubai and London
Neom has an airport, which would begin receiving regular flights from Dubai, officials said, adding that a London service will also start in due course.
Cost and funding
Saudi Arabia will set aside 300 billion riyals ($80 billion) for the Neom Investment Fund, and it could expand to 400 billion riyals, Prince Mohammed told reporters in Jeddah. The fund will invest in companies that agree to operate at Neom. An initial public offering of the project is planned on the kingdom’s stock market by 2024.
The first phase of the project, lasting until 2030, will cost 1.2 trillion Saudi riyals ($319 billion), Prince Mohammed said. The first phase will depend on a “government subsidy” of 200 to 300 billion riyals, he added.
Eventually, Neom will become self-sufficient and bring a 13-14% return on investment, Prince Mohammed said.