The Neom Project was announced by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, H.H Mohammad Bin Salman, during a big event last week that was attended by some of the world’s biggest names in finance and business. The prince declared that the Kingdom has assigned more than 500 million dollars for the project. An economic zone of 26,000 square kilometers on the north western border of Saudi Arabia has been allocated for this purpose.
The project will create a modern, smart, unconventional city that houses the latest urban technologies and become a hub for the development of nine investment sectors such as energy, transportation, bioengineering, robotics, water, food, digital technology, science and media.
The government of Saudi Arabia marketed the project through a huge media campaign that attracted a lot of attention. Despite the preliminary information that was released about it, there are other major and obvious advantages. Yet, like any other venture, it entails risks and has some concerns that should be taken into consideration.
Here is a list of a few advantages of the project:
– The project presents creative and unconventional thinking.
– It calls for partnership with neighboring countries, which strengthen capabilities and benefit from economic integration with Egypt and Jordan.
– The project is located on the north western border of Saudi Arabia, an area that did not get its equal share of development.
– The project was presented, along with a team of major international financial and business leaders, which reinforces the project and enhances investors’ confidence.
– The announcement that 500 million dollars will be invested by the government will be the basis to attract further international investments.
– The head of the project is the prince himself; he marketed it directly and exhibited good knowledge about the details thereof. His enthusiasm will increase public confidence in the project.
– It is one of the products of Saudi vision 2030, which illustrate commitment to the plan and dedication to pursue its outlined goals.
– While the project is mainly economic, it is also coupled with social and cultural transformations that are necessary to achieve the goals of the project.
– The project seeks to utilize the geographic location of Saudi Arabia and illustrates its ability to become a global commercial hub.
However, there are also some disadvantages. They include:
- – Most major decisions in the Arab world are taken by individuals and steam from the vision of leadership. This is definitely a negative aspect. Such major economic decisions should be based on wide public participation. Utilizing point of views and local expertise as well as gaining the necessary public support is needed to ensure the success of the project. Money alone cannot guarantee the establishment of great cities; a great city needs social and cultural structures that are based on justice, equality, political participation and freedom of expression.
- – One of the negative aspects of the project is that it will be built on virgin land. This is not a sustainable approach. Many political leaders wrongfully think that the solution is to escape from existing urban centres and their problems.
- – Prince Mohamad Bin Salman announced that this is a capitalistic project and that it will become the first city where its regulations are written by businessmen – despite the advantages that this approach may bring. We need to understand that urban planning is a critical activity and the state must play a major role to oversee it in order to protect the interests of the general public as well as protecting land and the environment. Leaving this task to major cross-continents corporations could jeopardize the city and its inhabitants.
- – Reading the project brief, one can see that it is a “Globalized” project and it lacks the Saudi spirit, which possesses many rich characteristics that could have a positive influence on the project.
- – Finally, although the Saudi society is rich with creative individuals and outstanding businessmen, the initial presentation of the project did not present Saudi faces. Including national individuals could strengthen the project and give the Arab Saudi citizens a chance to proof themselves.
Today we look forward to follow the progress of this huge dream project. We hope that it will be successful and that it will be beneficial to the entire region. However, we find ourselves somewhat sceptical with a project of such a scale, where huge investment is allocated at difficult times, such as when oil prices are low, many countries are facing financial deficits, and we are surrounded by political challenges. We hope that it will not be a repeat of other urban schemes where new cities were going to be established, which are yet to see the light, like Silk City in Kuwait, The New Capital in Egypt and King Abdullah City in Jeddah.