A Promising Future Is in ‘The Line’: Is It Just a Dream or Will It Be Reality?
The name Saudi Arabia conjures up a montage of images associated with wealth. Oil. Gold. Fast cars. But not one of progress. Yet, that’s exactly what its latest project, The Line, claims to be.
The Line is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman’s latest project, announced in 2021, and promises to be home to over one million people. The urban project located within the fully automated business zone Neom, The Line is a new city-state straight out of the future complete with flying taxis, robot house help, and an artificial moon.
Stretching for 170 kilometers, The Line is envisioned as a linear city free from cars and pollution, powered entirely by clean energy with walkability being top priority. It will have all the basic amenities like parks, clinics, schools, and shopping. MBS, as the Prince is known, declared it a “civilisational revolution that puts humans first”.
“High-speed transportation, utilities, digital infrastructure, and logistics will be seamlessly integrated in dedicated spaces running in an invisible layer along The Line,” MBS said in a statement.
Envisioned in three layers The Line is structurally simple yet complex. The Pedestrian Layer right at the top will be vehicle-free for people to walk about. The Service Layer, which is the second level, consists of services and facilities like schools and hospitals. The Spine Layer is right at the bottom and will house ultra high-speed transport and autonomous vehicles.
Is there any merit in such a project?
The Line is a great example of evolving urbanism and the relationship between people and their environment. The focus is on spending more time in increasing the quality of life by making everything walkable and accessible within 20 minutes.
The Line is as close as it gets to Professor Carlo Moreno’s concept of a ‘15-minute city’ where everything is reachable in 15 minutes. Moreno’s concept prioritizes the emotional, mental, and physical health of citizens by focusing on reducing time spent for basic activities like going to school or work, visiting friends, etc. He also envisions the possibility to decentralise activities, services, and facilities which will increase accessibility.
The Line, like the 15-minute city, places the environment at the heart of the concept by emphasizing on sustainable development and zero carbon transport. More weightage has been given to bike and pedestrian-friendly avenues to encourage a healthy and environment-friendly lifestyle, as well.
Is the project feasible, though?
This all sounds great but the question on everyone’s lips is, “how viable and feasible is The Line?” Urban planning professionals and other experts find the goals of the project extremely challenging to achieve.
University of Miami Professor and founder of an architectural firm, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk tells LiveScience that the city will need more area to hold more people to make the proposed public transport feasible.
“If there’s only a few hundred people at every stop, you’re not going to economically sustain that investment in that infrastructure,” she says.
Other observers have pointed out that much of the technology proposed in The Line is non-existent right now or is in the testing stage. For instance, the highest speeds that a hyperloop is capable of today is around 463 kmph, achieved by the Munich-based TUM Hyperloop. The Line has based its entire transport plan on projected speeds of 512 kmph. Flying cars and robot house help are still nothing but figments of imagination and have not yet reached drawing boards yet.
Apart from the technology, The Line will also require a completely new approach to regulations, and building its economy and society to accommodate the new infrastructure and style of living.
Skeptics of The Line also recall other projects, including Neom, which came to a halt after the Jamal Khashoggi incident. Saudi Arabia has a history of failed megaprojects like the massive solar plant project proposed a few years ago and the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy proposed in 2013.
The Line does have a grand vision, which is significant for the assimilation of various technologies into everyday life. Achieving this vision, whenever that may be, is a giant step towards improving urban lifestyles, accessibility, and city planning. Yet, these ideas need to be balanced by ground realities of budgets, technical capabilities, and availability of resources. Until then, The Line serves as a bold, inspiring view of the future that holds out hope of a better life.
A graduate in architecture, Sayantan is an avid reader, reluctant writer and passionate about travelling and sports. His favourite topics while reading are design, architecture and current affairs; though business drives him to read books on management and economics, just to stay in the league.