Most cities are built around survival needs. Cities can also be used as focal points for war, like al-Kufa’s location served for battles between Arabs and the Sasanian Empire. In his book entitled al-Kufa, Hisham Ju’ayṭ wrote that “al-Kufa had an architectural style that was apparently imitated by Wasit and Baghdad… Even if we go beyond the Mesopotamian region and the palaces of the Levant... Al-Kufa played a prominent role in portraying the Islamic urban perception.”
Indeed, throughout history, cities were built based more on survival instincts than on creative desires. Creativity came later with art, decoration, and high-rise buildings, as in the Abbasid era. Survival and the search for food and water were the number one factor behind how people chose and built cities.
Today, with major transformations shaping the world, a deep breakthrough, with a philosophical dimension, is taking place to reimagine cities. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman introduced the concept of a futuristic city under construction called “THE LINE” and located in NEOM.
THE LINE will be carbon-free and conserve 95 percent of nature within it. The primary goal of this new city is to warn humanity that the planet is our responsibility and that its distortion and pollution are partly due to our failure to reinvent cities.
“Throughout history, cities were built to protect their citizens. After the Industrial Revolution, cities prioritized machines, cars, and factories over people. In cities that are viewed as the world’s most advanced, people spend years of their lives commuting. By 2050, commute durations will double. By 2050, one billion people will have to relocate due to rising CO2 emissions and sea levels,” said Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a statement.
Watch: #SaudiArabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announces 'The Line' project, a futuristic city within @NEOM and a 170km belt of hyper-connected future communities, without cars and roads and built around nature.#whatisTHELINEhttps://t.co/WUhVfNyKW4 pic.twitter.com/xCHGfVNuRe— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) January 10, 2021
The time has come to invest in technology and artificial intelligence in order to refine cities that are old or under construction. A science-fiction show about the future of human life called “Upload” depicts smoke-free, driverless cars, and advanced methods of education, entertainment, and healthcare. The show was produced last year, which means that it incorporates contemporary technology revolutions while also foreseeing a futuristic ideal city.
Such ideas are no longer mere science fiction or artworks.
Rather, they have become realistic plans with specific timelines and exceptional talents and capabilities. This is the dazzling reality of the smart city THE LINE.
This project is refuting old ideas stating that a city that is in harmony with the environment will have huge costs and human pitfalls. Saudi Arabia is proposing an exceptional concept of a city that can be extremely eco-friendly while also having profitable, creative investment and development projects.
On re-inventing cities, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “THE LINE is the first time in 150 years that a major urban development has been designed around people, not roads. Walkability will define life on THE LINE – all essential daily services, such as schools, medical clinics, leisure facilities, as well as green spaces, will be within a five-minute walk. Ultra-high-speed transit and autonomous mobility solutions will make travel easier and give residents the opportunity to reclaim time to spend on health and wellbeing. It is expected no journey will be longer than 20 minutes.”
Human history consists of turning points, with each one representing a victory of a model over another. Accordingly, the force that Saudi Arabia is using alongside its allies in the region, from Yemen to the Levant, is aimed at crushing the bloody model represented and sponsored by Iran. History has a great example for that. If Churchill and the Allies had not defeated Nazism and crushed Hitler, humanity would have been extremely different today.
Today’s results of the downfall of Nazism are modernity, freedom, justice, creativity, and the prevailing concept of the individual in cities. That defeat also promoted the spread of French and English philosophies, arts, and ideas in the 20th century at the expense of the Germans, as documented by the researcher Hirsh Baghdad Mohammed in his book The ideal discourse in the German philosophy.
THE LINE gives humanity a taste of outstanding development in Saudi Arabia, but it also puts the whole region before two options like those that Europe and the world had in World War II: Those who preferred Hitler over Churchill, totalitarianism over liberalism, crushed individuals over independent ones, ended up defeated.
Ideology is what destroyed people’s choices and shattered the dreams of Arab societies. Even the discourse of intellectuals in their institutions and circles today are reactionary and sterile.
THE LINE is a turning point with economic, cultural, political, and social promises. It continues the path charted by an exceptional leader in a difficult time. It is the gift of science, reason, and development in a crazy space and fiery region. But it is with knowledge and power that great nations triumphed and built their dreams. Cities are built with knowledge and guarded by force. This is the concept of the city.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.