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NEOM: Between Houston and Zurich

Prince Bader bin Saud

Published: Updated:

Earlier this year, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the establishment of The Line city in Neom. In The Line, there are no cars, streets, or carbon emissions, and moving between any two locations will take no more than five minutes on foot, because the transportation network will be below the city. Only footpaths will be on the surface, separated from the network by a layer for transportation and logistics. The Line will rely on clean and renewable energy, as well as interconnected smart AI-supported communities. Life in The Line will be in harmony with the city’s natural environment, and perhaps this is an advanced conceptualization of the humanization of cities. This concept, which the Kingdom will endeavor toward achieving in the future, is based on vertical rather than horizontal urbanization.

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The humanization of Saudi cities, one of the targets of Vision 2030, can be achieved by identifying the competitive advantage of each region in the fields of agriculture, industry, and tourism, as well as in smart cities and others, and then investing in this competitive advantage to serve humans and the environment. However, this process begins primarily with the humanization of neighborhoods, by ridding them from the crucible of the US urban model and its obsession with highways, horizontal expansion, large spaces, low population density, and Euclidean zoning, which divides regions into housing, shopping, entertainment, and other districts, as is the case in the American city of Houston.

City humanization is based on the mixed use of land, whereby neighborhoods include facilities, footpaths, shopping and entertainment zones, schools, and green spaces, with short distances and few gaps. This model reduces the duration of journeys to no more than 10 minutes on average, promotes social activities, and reduces the use of cars and the ensuing pollution, traffic accidents, deaths, and social isolation, as is the case in the Swiss city of Zurich.

Despite the existence of a national program that tackles city humanization, the Kingdom’s urban identity does not consider some important factors, the most prominent of which is the slums that disfigure some of its cities. The statistics of the Arab Cities Authority indicated that 80 million Arabs live in slums close to the city center. However, the solution is not to remove or evacuate these slums, but to provide a regular and humanized alternative with the same specifications, to avoid the rebuilding of another slum. This is in addition to the monotonous network planning of cities and neighborhoods that values the needs of cars over humans.

The area allocated to streets in the neighborhoods of human-friendly cities should not exceed 30 percent of the total area, with 40 percent allocated to commercial use, and the remaining 30 percent allocated to vertical housing, such as residential towers, as well as to facilities and services. According to experts, city humanization indicators can be measured in the sounds of the city, the numbers of pedestrians on sidewalks, and the reduction of obesity and diseases. In this context, the Saudi Ministry of Municipal Affairs imposed city humanization-compatible regulations on new neighborhood plans, but these regulations will not be enough without clear and explicit penalties for violators.

This article was originally published and translated from Saudi daily Okaz.

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