Why "The Line" is just sick in Saudi Arabia

For some years now, one has been hearing and reading about "The Line" and the Project NEOMwhich is supposed to be the city of the future in Saudi Arabia, not that China has already had worse experiences with its planned cities (Under Occupied Developments in China, Ordos, China's empty city), although I at least find the concept of a planned city practical and exciting as an IT and developer, for example the South Korean planned city of Songdo, which is actually a district of the megacity Incheon. The advantage here is simply that you can optimize everything, improve processes, and on paper technically better implement that than if something grows organically.

Unfortunately, or actually fortunately, there is human nature, and it is organic.

A planned city often suffers from having fewer people living there than there is housing. The simple reason for this is that cities have a history and companies work there, mine resources, process them or have historically always been located there. But creating something from scratch? Without history? Without culture? That is already more difficult for people. Because a city is a living organism, the traffic, the infrastructure, is the pulse that keeps everything in a city alive. Now imagine you had such an organism, what would be the people who live in this organism? I draw here best the comparison to the bleeding or to individual blood platelets, each carries in humans oxygen and supplies so the cells in the organism. But these are formed in the human body. So within this city, which we see here as an organism. But with a planned city? Since we do not breed humans (yet) in artificial wombs machines and let grow up in such a city to fill this with life, we set on the import of humans, over advertising campaigns are to lure plan cities with free dwelling in overcrowded cities. China's real estate bubble is here already bursting or has already burst, as several dozens of buildings demolished (August 22, 2022 - People Have Stopped Paying Their Mortgages-China's Real Estate Crisis) had to be made, because the real estate companies used the money that people spent on buying an apartment to actually buy more building land, and that led to the bursting of this bubble. Money is gone, and there is no apartment either. That's a problem here, that people are spending money on something that doesn't even exist yet.

So how do you attract people to a planned city?
In principle, it needs a reason, okay, this would be cheap housing. But for people it needs more, these want culture, work, for children of course educational facilities. Recreation etc., supply of food and so on ...

Actually solvable, but the aftertaste remains, because companies must first be located there, but why? They need workers, and usually these are not available in an empty city. Companies locate where there are already people and where you have a wide choice of candidates, major cities and metropolitan areas. However, since Corona, home offices have become more and more popular, for example, you can do virtual office jobs from home. So why move somewhere else when you may already have family, friends and parents in town?

Here comes the "chicken and egg" problem. People want work, but companies want people to settle in the city. This leads to problems and can only be made possible, so to speak, through state support and subsidization → life support on a drip.

And what does that have to do with "The Line"?

"The Line" is to be a 170 km (110 mi) long city, which is to be 170 km (110 mi) long and 0.2 km (0.1 mi) wide and 500 meters (1,600 ft) high. Already on the map this looks insane and reminds of a straight line, which it is on paper, and would be most comparable to the Great Wall of China.

Size of "The Line" on a route of 170km via Wikipedia

But this line is not a line, but a wall. I find it childish to call it "The Line", a line exists only in the 2nd dimension, but we live in 3 dimensions and there such a line in the vertical of 500 meters is simply a wall.
But that's not even the real problem.


Point 1: Work

"The Line" is expected to house 9 million people and create 380,000 jobs. Let's assume that the Age Structure Saudi Arabia 2030, 70 % employed people includes 25 % youth and 5 % citizens over 65. 70 % of 9,000,000 people would be 6,300,000 = 6.3 million employable people. How will 6,300,000 people fit into 380,000 jobs? There are then simply more people than jobs. And above all, more employable people than jobs, which means that if every job is filled, there will be 5,920,000 people left in this city who will not have a job. How should they get their income? Should there be a basic income? In Saudi Arabia?

They're planning a city here for people who won't even find enough jobs to spend their lives there. This is going wrong.

Point 2: Structure

The city is supposed to be a wall of content, 200 meters wide and 170 kilometers long, and how is that supposed to work? Supposedly, everything is supposed to be accessible within 5 minutes. Sure, I'm curious about that, because that has something of a planned economy if you have a job that's on the other side of the 170 kilometers. Will people be forced to move there? A high-speed subway is supposed to run through the line in 20 minutes, but how many trains will be needed with 9 million people? No one will walk the route, there are no cars or buses. The bottleneck will be the subway.

Other planned cities are based on the structures of existing cities that have evolved and shaped people over hundreds of years. In a planned city like "The Line", you won't be able to just build a business in a residential area.

Point 3: Nature, environment, local influence

The planned city itself is to be 170 km long, this wall runs through a desert region, in itself probably not much can happen or someone be disturbed, but nature or an ecological balance is important, at least I was felt the last decades always told. The 170,000 meters length x 500 meters height, result in a long rectangle with an area of 85,000,000 m² / square meter of glass surface (so you can see it on the drawings of the city planners), the problem with this surface is, it will reflect for climate control inside the city, the light and this surface will reflect a large amount of light into the desert, because so that it remains cool inside the city, not too much light may penetrate. Is of course avoided in the presentation video as a question, since the sun is shown from above 😉 .

The sun sends 1000W/m² per square meter to the earth. Solar thermal can use 50 %, photovoltaics between 20 and 30 % depending on the technology. To get some light into the city, we let in this model calculation 50 % of light.

That means per square meter of surface, 500W of solar power are reflected onto the glass surface, the other 500W are absorbed and reach the city as light. So far so good.
But for every 85,000,000 sq. ft. of surface area, there is 500Watts of heat. 500W x 85,000,000 m² area = 42,500,000,000 watts ~ 42.5 gigawatts of solar power reflected. Now if you don't build solar thermal power plants and use "The Line" as a reflecting mirror, that 42.5 gigawatts of heat goes into the desert and that just has local impacts because that will raise the temperature. At least in my theory. Of course, I could be wrong here, but I think the math should show the potential impact here.

Even if "The Line" is not illuminated by the sun from sunrise to sunset, I still see certain problems. But well, that's just an objection and how far the problem then becomes apparent in reality is open.

Another point is the city itself. In the city there is no wind, no animals, it seems more like a vivarium for people, where everything is pre-planned and you virtually won't go outside, why should you, it's only heat and desert outside. I wonder if you can smoke in the city at all? Because the ventilation and cooling alone will require a lot of energy.
One will either decide to walk 200 meters from one side to the other or 170 kilometers. I don't know, the other planned cities seem more appealing to me. Perhaps "The Line" should be regarded more like a future colony on Mars, as a mental preparation 😉 .

As of October 2022, construction has begun and the trench in which the foundation will be located has been dug, on which route this is located can not be said from the video:


This is how "The Line" should look like one day. (Upper video in german, lower video in english)


My opinion

It is sick, we are supposed to save, reduce our consumption, reduce energy consumption, recycle more and there you build a city that is a wall and destroys the local environment for 170 kilometers, permanently and unnecessarily. Neither does it solve any problem, nor does it provide any value. It just shows what a country is capable of. Urban planning completely broken, "stacking" people on more and more dense space, just Covid has shown us that in cities a virus can spread very quickly. In "The Line", you would have to quarantine everyone, if there is no way to seal off sections. The logistics system will be completely overloaded if everyone has to drive through the 170km and there is only subway. What kind of life is this vivarium of elite decadence? Where 500 billion dollars are wasted.
That is not a life, neither worth living nor worthwhile to vegetate there if you have no work and the problem remains, companies must first want to settle there. Saudi Arabia is not very popular because of the human rights problems there.

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Posted by Petr Kirpeit

All articles are my personal opinion and are written in German. In order to offer English-speaking readers access to the article, they are automatically translated via DeepL. Facts and sources will be added where possible. Unless there is clear evidence, the respective article is considered to be my personal opinion at the time of publication. This opinion may change over time. Friends, partners, companies and others do not have to share this position.

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