Saudi Arabia is already looking to a future beyond oil. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman who has made no secret of diversifying the Kingdom’s economy away from its oil revenue has now – in the midst of the pandemic – introduced plans for a car-free, road-free city.
The project which is called THE LINE is in line with the Kingdom’s $500 billion Neom project. It is a “170 km belt of hyper-connected future communities, with cars and roads and built around nature…” Construction for the project which will begin in Q1 of 2021 will see “380,000 jobs for the future and SAR180 billion (USD48 bn) to domestic GDP by 2030.” Walking is encouraged and no journey is expected to last longer than 20 minutes.
The Neom project had been announced by the Crown Prince in 2017. The site, which is near the Red Sea and borders Egypt, Israel and Jordan, is part of his VISION 2030 plan. Apart from reducing the Kingdom’s dependence on oil – currently it is estimated to be around 50% of GDP – its goals are to produce a vibrant society, thriving economy and ambitious nation.
The timing of the announcement though is interesting as it comes at a time when the Kingdom has opened up borders with Qatar suggesting that it is looking to brand itself as a modern, responsible nation. Given the international condemnation that the Crown Prince has faced so far for human rights abuses, this comes not a moment too soon.