Saudi Arabia is developing a new city, 150-stories tall and built from scratch, that will serve as a semi-enclosed environment where people can live and work without ever stepping foot outside. And while the promotional videos released Monday are likely an attempt to give the development a utopian feel that recalls so many “intentional cities” of the 20th century, the project comes across as extremely dystopian.
The city, completely walled on four sides with some kind of ventilation on top, is planned to be about 499.26 m tall (500 meters), 199.34 m wide (200 meters), and 169 km long (170 km), according to the promotional videos, and will feature cutting-edge technology along with high-speed transportation from end-to-end. Cars will be completely unnecessary.
A video uploaded to Twitter proclaims this new city will house 9 million residents to provide a more healthy and “sustainable” quality of life. And while it’s being advertised as an eco-friendly project, with water and power supplies billed as “100% renewable,” the details have yet to be provided.
“For too long, humanity has existed within dysfunctional and polluted cities that ignore nature. Now, a revolution in civilisation is taking place. Imagine a traditional city and consolidating its footprint, designing to protect and enhance nature,” the narrator of the new video explains.
The video shows what appears to be autonomous drones zipping around the new city, with plenty of greenery. And people who live there will supposedly be able to go from one end to another in just 20 minutes.
“Residents have access to all their daily needs within 5-minute walk neighbourhoods,” the narrator continues.
Another promotional video, uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday and similar in content, shows the city from the perspective of a young woman literally flying through the environment. And its soundtrack definitely helps it sound dystopian — a dark and spooky cover of Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.”
Why would they use a dark and spooky version of the song — something you’d be more likely to hear in the trailer for a 2010s movie about a serial killer? Your guess is as good as ours. But it’s certainly a choice.
As we mentioned earlier, this is far from the first time that an incredibly expansive planned community has taken shape on the drawing board. Even Amazon founder Jeff Bezos showed off something similar in 2019, albeit his plan is for a space colony.
Whether it was George Pullman’s hyper-capitalist town in Chicagoland, the drug-free cult of Synanon in California, or Upton Sinclair’s socialist cooperative in New Jersey, history has shown intentional communities are often ruined by the egos of the people building them. And there’s arguably no bigger ego on the planet than the developer of this city, Mr. Bone-saw himself, Mohammed bin Salman.
“We cannot ignore the livability and environmental crises facing our world’s cities, and NEOM is at the forefront of delivering new and imaginative solutions to address these issues,” MBS said in a press release about the project.
“NEOM is leading a team of the brightest minds in architecture, engineering and construction to make the idea of building upwards a reality,” the Saudi royal continued.
The question is whether MBS will be able to pull this one off. The country likely has enough money to make it happen, but as we’ve learned from countless utopian communities of the 19th and 20th centuries, you always need more than just money to make a utopian experiment work.