Highlights

  • Details of Saudi Arabia's ambitious new city project - The Line
  • The Line will be a city constructed in a straight line
  • Saudi Arabia billed it as solution to modern world's urban problems

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Robot dinosaurs, artificial moon, no roads, no cars: Saudi Arabia's plan for new linear city The Line

A city constructed in a straight line. No roads, and no cars. For entertainment, a robot dinosaur park, and robot cage fights. This is Saudi Arabia's plan for a mega-project - The Line.

A city constructed in a straight line. No roads, and no cars. For entertainment, a robot dinosaur park, and robot cage fights. This is Saudi Arabia's plan for a mega-project - The Line. From a jumble of buildings to clear geometry. From a jungle of cement and asphalt, to a junction of technology and nature. But is this future-made-real, or just science fiction-themed propaganda to get money from investors?

Let's take a look at what would make The Line so special, if the actual city is exactly like the ambitious plans.

Firstly, The Line will have ideal climate all day, all year, using what designers have called microclimatic spaces. The Line is being pegged as a zero-carbon city, with no roads, no cars, and therefore, no emissions. Instead, residents will travel using high-speed trains, with a maximum travel time of 20 minutes anywhere in the city. To make living even more easy, residents will have access to all facilities within the radius of a 5-minute walk.

The city will run on 100% renewable energy. This includes even the industries. Many services will be automated, using artificial intelligence. To prevent The Line from becoming another urban jungle, residents will have access to open, green spaces with a 2-minute walk at any spot in the city. The Line will house world-class preventative healthcare facilities. The project is estimated to create around 3.8 lakh jobs by the year 2030. Additionally, residents will have higher disposable income as costs like car insurance, fuel, and parking are eliminated.

All of this will be housed inside a pair of horizontal skyscrapers, which would stretch for a length of 170 km. At a height of 1,600 feet, the outer walls of the city will be taller than the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower. To make the construction even more striking, the outer walls will be covered in mirror glass. The width of the linear structure will be 200 metres, and the total area of the city will be just 34 square kilometres. The city will be able to house around 9 million, or 90 lakh, people.

The Line is situated in a new territory called Neom. It is is billed as a futuristic city-state in northwest Saudi Arabia. The name 'Neom' is a portmanteau of Greek word 'neos', which means new, and Arabic word 'mustaqbal', which means future. The development of Neom is a part of a plan by Saudi Arabia's de-facto ruler Prince Mohammad bin Salman to make the country's economy tech-based, instead of oil-dependent.

Apart from The Line, the blueprint for Neom includes a mountain city Trojena, and an industrial centre called Oxagon. Neom is located in Saudi Arabia's Tabuk province, which features red deserts and snowy mountains. Neom is claimed to be 6 hours away by air from 40% of the world. The city-state is also pegged as the largest carbon-free system in the world.

But this is not what would make Neom a unique spot on the planet. Mohammad bin Salman has some very ambitious plans for the city-state, according to documents accessed by Wall Street Journal in 2019.

If Salman has his way, Neom will feature a Jurassic Park-inspired amusement park with robot dinosaurs. Also, robots will fight in cages as a form of entertainment sport. The area will have its personal, artificial moon, with drones mimicking a crescent, half, or a full moon at night. As an unparalleled tourist spot, Neom will have a beach with sand which will glow at night. To go to all these spots and more, people will travel in flying drone taxis.

All these attractions haven't been officially announced yet, and The Line remains the highlight of Neom. But even as Riyadh calls the linear city a revolution in human settlement, the idea of a city constructed in a straight line is not new. Actually, the idea is almost 150 years old.

The first linear city was designed in the 1880s by Spanish town planner Arturo Soria y Mata. He called the Ciudad Lineal the 'perfect city' with a single street unit 500 metres wide. He organised various urban functions into bands on either side of the central boulevard. Soria tried to test the idea near Madrid, but was not able to finish it.

The next attempt came in 1910, when Edgar Chambless proposed a pan-America linear city called Roadtown. It was designed as a boulevard with 2-floor houses on triple-decker rail lines. The idea was backed by inventors Thomas Edison and William H Boyes. However, the proposal didn't catch on, and Chambless eventually killed himself in 1936.

Around the same time, Soviet town planner Mikhail Okhitovich proposed the idea of decentralised cities. These included linear housing, communal dining, and offices etc situated at road junctions. The plan included individual pod-houses along 25-km-long ribbons of settlement. However, authorities called the idea unviable. Okhitovich was eventually executed in a gulag in 1937 for his political views.

The 1930s also saw architect Le Corbusier propose Plan Obus, a non-commissioned idea for a new Algerian capital. It consisted of a linear, elevated highway with 14 floors of housing on the sides. Like earlier plans, Le Corbusier's idea never went beyond paper.

The next high-profile attempt at a linear settlement was made in 1961 by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. He unveiled a plan for the Tokyo Bay which involved an 80-km central highway with modular buildings on the sides. City modules were linked by 3 levels of looping roads. Tange's vision was never realised.

Four years later, architects Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves proposed the Jersey Corridor Project, a city with parallel blocks stretching from Boston to Washington, DC. One of the blocks was for industry, and the other for housing, and also included multi-deck highways. Like earlier attempts, the Jersey Corridor Project never saw the light of day.

Now, 60 years later, it is Saudi Arabia attempting what has so far remained at the idea stage, and realising it will not be easy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, The Line has been designed by US-based Morphosis Architects, but at least 9 other design and engineering consultants were hired for the mega project. A 2021 analysis recommended construction of the linear city in stages. And this could take 50 years to finish.

One unique challenge facing The Line project is curvature of the Earth's surface, which is usually not a factor in most constructions. The Earth's surface curves around 8 inches per mile, i.e. 1.6 km, and The Line stretches on for 170 km. To overcome this, the designers have proposed a gap at the top of 2,600-foot modules. The gaps will help 'bend' the structure along with the Earth's surface.

Despite all the claims to improve the way humans live, The Line is seeing its fair share of controversies. Saudi Arabian authorities have been accused of forcibly evicting the original inhabitants of the region. Saudi security forces even shot a resident dead, according to reports.

Reports say that Mohammad bin Salman refers to The Line project as his pyramids. It remains to be seen whether the Middle Eastern kingdom is able to create the defining marvel of the modern world, or impractical ambition makes The Line fall victim to the curse of the linear city idea.

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