Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman this week unveiled plans for The Line, a $100-$200bn,100-mile pedestrianised belt of carbon-free communities big enough to house one million people all living within a five-minute walk of essential facilities. Expected to create 38,000 jobs, The Line will be integral to Neom, the $500 billion state-of-the-art smart city ‘giga project’ currently under construction on the Kingdom’s north-western Red Sea coast and whose development board the Crown Prince chairs.
Work would start in the first quarter of 2021, he said, and on completion the belt will be devoid of both streets and cars. “High-speed transportation, utilities, digital infrastructure, and logistics will be seamlessly integrated in dedicated spaces running in an invisible layer along The Line,” he said in a pre-prepared statement. Drawings released to coincide with the Crown Prince’s announcement show vehicles driven by artificial intelligence (AI), a metro line and high-speed freight transportation located underground. Overground will be a ‘pedestrian layer’ supported by two underground layers – one ‘service layer’ level of infrastructure directly underneath the ground and a lower-level ‘spine layer’ for transport.
The cornerstone investor behind the project will be Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign wealth fund Several days after bin Salman’s announcement, its governor Yasir al-Rumayyan told the Financial Times that, thanks in part to its proceeds from last year’s Saudi Aramco IPO and the sale of its stake in SABIC, the PIF “had a lot of cash” on its balance sheet and was committed to investing at least $40bn a year in the domestic economy over the next five years, and maybe even more after that. As well as The Line and the wider Neom development, the PIF is also the anchor investor in two other so-called ‘giga-projects’ – the $15bn-plus Qiddiy sports and entertainment complex, and a Red Sea tourism development that is expected to cost about $10bn.