What is 'The Line'?

John Hill
13. January 2021
Photo: Screenshot from project launch

In his launch of THE LINE, embedded below, the Crown Prince asserts that conventional contemporary cities are not only unsustainable, they kill millions of people every year due to pollution and traffic accidents. Therefore, as he and his company, NEOM, contend, a "futuristic" city is needed, one that preserves nature, eliminates cars, and enables people to fulfill their daily needs within a five-minute walk. NEOM is also the name of a $500 billion megacity proposed by the Crown Prince in 2017, which would be located in the northwest corner of the country, near Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and would mark a transition toward Saudi Arabia's post-oil future.

Although eliminating cars and walking to work or the store are hardly futuristic — they are the definition of many pre-modern settlements — THE LINE knits together a series of such sustainable communities via an underground network of high-speed transit and an "invisible" service grid. AI technology would overlay the whole to "learn and predict ways to make life easier to save time for residents and businesses." While the graphic presentation depicts a distinct line cutting across the widest east-west stretch of Saudi Arabia, akin to "The Continuous City" by Alan Boutwell and Michael Mitchell (1968-1971) and other hypothetical proposals, the linear city would resemble, if built, a series of traditional, mixed-use urban conglomerations situated along a spine.

So which architecture or planning firm(s) is responsible for the THE LINE? Not surprisingly, given the very preliminary nature of the plan, no firms are credited in the presentation or on the website. For sure the project did not come from Norman Foster, who has been known to dabble in the design of Middle Eastern smart cities but whose firm broke ties with Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Although they were not alone, many architects are still working on Saudi megaprojects, including BIG, who masterplanned Qiddiya, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s capital of Entertainment, Sports and the Arts" under construction west of Riyadh.

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