Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has set a very ambitious target for himself and his nation. The crux of Vision 2030 is Neom; a revolutionary ultra-modern mega-city the likes of which have never been seen.
Neom is derived from ‘neo’ or new, and ‘mustaqbal’ the Arabic word for future. As the name suggests, the vision boasts futuristic capabilities and artificial intelligence. Ending the reliance on oil, this vision promises a paradigm shift towards a non-traditional lifestyle, powered by clean energy and more robots than people. Yes, robots in Neom’s Saudi Arabia.
Around 10,000 square miles of barren sandy northwest Saudi Arabia, have been allocated for Neom’s development. With an investment of over $500 billion, from Saudi, local and international sources, the city will be built on the coast of the Red Sea and connect to Egypt and Jordan.
This drone-friendly city will develop into a center for robotics. Powered by solar and wind energy, robots in Neon “could perform a variety of functions, covering areas such as security, logistics, home deliveries and even looking after the elderly and infirm,” says Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics.
Similar to Dubai, Neom’s foundation will be based on free zones that are exempt from tariffs, and, will follow its own rules and regulations. It and will operate independently of the traditional Saudi and regional constraints, and aspires to be the business hub with state-of-the-art media, bio-tech, manufacturing and airlines.
It isn’t surprising that there is speculation around whether Neom will come to fruition. Previous endeavours in Saudi Arabia, including the $10 billion invested in the outskirts of Riyadh, have lost steam and fallen far behind their grand plans.
The Prince promises that this time will be different. His Vision 2030 is not linked to oil and will not fade into the shadows if oil prices do rise. He has already reduced subsidies and spending to reduce the budget deficit and is introducing a value-added tax to generate a non-oil revenue stream.
The Crown Prince envisions Neom as “a civilizational leap for humanity.” Rather than compete with Dubai as the current business hub, Neom will complement it. Connecting continents, and strategically located to promote cheaper international shipping, it is expected to generate new demand, jobs, and boost the region, thereby promoting and supporting Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait.
2019 will see the initial ground-breaking followed by the completion of phase 1 in 2025. While many Arabic rituals and traditions have been relaxed in Dubai to entice foreigners, time will tell how this mega city will juggle its historic and religious customs, to create this progressive climate for international business and investment.