What's the Progress with Saudi Mega-Project NEOM?
Saudi Arabia is changing from a large Middle Eastern state to a global leader in human civilisation, and this is no better exemplified than in its mega-projects for NEOM, it's new urban area containing the future living and working models for humanity.
This piece asks how the Saudi's are fairing in making their extremely ambitious vision a reality, as well as what to expect when (and if) their dreams are truly realised.
NEOM is a stylisation of a huge new urban area called Neom, a blend of 'Neo' - which is Greek for 'new' - and 'M', which symbolizes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, colloquially known as 'MBS'.
At the heart of NEOM are 4 mega-projects:
The Line: A huge 170 kilometer (110 mile) long and 200 metre (660 foot) wide city situated in the desert heading out to the coast (see main image & image below). The construction is planned to have an exterior made entirely out of glass, be car free, and home up to 9 million people.
Oxagon: Oxagon is a floating industrial complex in the shape of an octagon. It covers roughly 200–250 square kilometres (77–97 sq mi) of land. The project will focus on modern manufacturing, industrial research and development centered on expanding the Duba Port, which look to become a regional leader.
Trojena: Trojena is set to be the first major outdoor skiing destination in the Middle East. Situated in the Sarwat Mountains, the area will provide hotels, skyscrapers, sports and nature destinations.
Sindalah: Sindalah is a 1.1 million cubic yard luxury resort complex off the city coast. It is planned to have an 86-berth marina and three luxury hotels. A 9 hole golf course overlooking the sea was constructed in 2023.
Also included in the project is a new airport 'Neom Bay' that has already been registered with the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
NEOM's YouTube channel recently released a video (see below) that shows the progress as of October 2023.
The video shows solid advancements in the destination’s key regions, bolstered by large-scale investments and supported by market-leading partners, as well as talent from more than 90 countries.
With more than 60,000 workers currently on the ground, footage reveals the construction progress on its mega-projects, with further developments evident on the infrastructure interlinking them, with roads, utilities and a hospital already built.
The above video emphasizes how NEOM is set to become a regional hub for logistics, technology, recreation, and business.
The first container terminal in the region is set to open in 2025, while a sustainability plant is set to open in 2026.
Of all the mega-projects Saudi Arabia has as part of NEOM, none have caught the global imagination more than The Line.
Seen by some as the future of humanity, and others as just too ambitious, Saudi Arabia has involved some of the world's most famous scientists, architects, and visionaries to make the vision a relaity.
Work is now fully underway at NEOM, with the distinctive 'Line' design now visible on Google Maps.
Satellite images of the US$500 billion project obtained exclusively by MIT Technology Review (see below) show that construction of The Line is well underway.
Australian startup Soar Earth has provided some insight into the imagery and believes workers have already excavated around 26 million cubic meters of earth and rock.
This tells us that the project is well underway.
In any construction project there will be challenges, yet with a project the scale, ambition, and cost of NEOM, those challenges multiply.
Add to that the reality of working in a desert and one starts to grasp the magnitude of this project.
However, even in some solutions to said challenges are knock-on issues, for instance, in order to realize the project, Saudi Arabia must employ significant numbers in global talent.
This creates a dynamic working environment, yet it also distances Saudi Arabians from the project, and it is always a home population that drives projects for the long-term.
This is something the UAE has discovered after employing a global workforce, and is now rectifying with its 'Emiratisation' project.
Technological, Logistical & Social Challenges
Perhaps the most obvious challenges are the technological ones.
With such a vast movement of materials and people, there are major pressures on the project to run on time and budget, yet even if the project succeeds, the Saudi rulers must be wise in its implementation.
In the logistics space, we consistently find the problem of smooth, streamlined operations, and these majorly clog up the chain.
This is why TLME is holding its Future of Logistics Conference in which we discover how the sector can be sustainable, resilient and successful for the long term.
It is imperative that a smooth, sustainable interaction is implemented between the logistical nodes within NEOM, in fact, failure to ensure this could make or break the project.
Finally, the social considerations are also pertinent.
While the vision of NEOM is astonishing, there are down-to-earth human considerations to be mindful of such as what the governing culture will be in NEOM.
Will it be traditionally Saudi, and if so would that be ideal for an international community?
Also, if it were too international in its tone, would it lose the Saudi flavour?
Each of these considerations remain important while creating a healthy living space for all.
To give credit where it is due, the Saudi Arabian rulers have already dispelled the criticisms of many naysayers by simply starting NEOM.
Many argued at its inception that NEOM would never begin, being just too ambitious, yet with millions of tons moved, infrastructure in place and The Line taking shape, we can now say for certain, this is happening.
Yet this doesn't mean the challenges are over yet, quite the opposite in fact.
The next challenges come in the form of advanced engineering, social considerations, and a logistical riddle wrapped in an enigma.
If nothing else, this project will be extremely interesting to see what humanity is capable of when it has the money, will, and vision to go to the next level.