Beyond NEOM: Saoudi-Arabian new mega smart city

The development of $500 billion mega #SmartCity NEOM in Saoudi-Arabia unveils upcoming fundamental political and cultural changes in that country. During this week papers informed us op the arrest of a number of mighty and rich people. This too might be part of an upcoming change. But for the time being read my post and - in particular - look at the video and realise what you see.


Herman van den Bosch's picture
Herman van den Bosch

Hi Luc, thanks for your comment. When I read the news about NEOM, by far the most important message was the intended cultural changes in Saoudi-Arabia. Only one day afterwards, I learned that political changes were on their way too.
Now your questions. I'm rather sceptical about the vibrancy of greenfield cities in general.. In all known cases it took many years before these cities began functioning as a city, not to speak about the development of a vibrant life-style. But one thing is certain, in order to become liveable (and possibly vibrant after years), greenfield cities need free, and entrepreneurial settlers. The upcoming changes in Saoudi-Arabia might create the right condition, although much is uncertain. And yes, the extreme choice of words of the crown-prince, bur also the scenes in the video surprised me. too, especially the implicit acceptance of unveiled women.
The reference at the absence of low-skilled work has to be seen in context. These days virtually no Arabs do unskilled work. In stead, guest workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are in charge. I can imagine that the crown prince dislikes the immanent inequality that is associated with this division and therefore prefers the robotisation of this work in his dreamed new town. Quite utopian and unrealistic, I think.
In one way I disagree with you. China has created many greenfield cities, which nearly all are populated densely by rural immigrants and people moving out of existing cities. Yes, it often took years before all buildings were populated. Because of its centralised policy, many schools, universities and companies are located in these cities and many thousands of employees had to move too. You do not hear me speak of vibrancy, but these cities are everything except ghost cities. The press often refers at the existence of many ghost towns, but invariably one is always mentioned and photographed, namely Ordos, far away in Mongolia. It took a while, but at this time about 150.000 people seem to live in Ordos, although many of them still work in old Ordos in a distance of about 40 km. The Chinese policy has always been, creating homes before people come and in this way they have prevented the development of shanty towns (slums) unlike many other big global cities. Whether this massive urbanisation is something that makes one happy, has to be doubted. Within one or two weeks I hoop to post an essay about urbanisation in India and its (in)famous plan to create 100 smart cities.

Luc Baardman๐Ÿƒโ˜•๏ธ's picture
Luc Baardman๐Ÿƒโ˜•๏ธ

Hi Herman,
I am curious about your take on certain aspects of this urban living transformation. 1. Do you think that this cultural change can really result in a vibrant city? As Mohammed bin Salman mentioned that especially the younger Saudis can make this change happen and if they don't, it will lead to the destruction of the country. Slightly extreme isn't it? 2. There seems no space for low-skill-labour in the city; inclusivity is mostly emphasized on women empowerment. Perhaps a radical idea in the GCC. How do you envision a city where low skilled labour is automated? 3. Some (if not most) Chinese attempts to greenfield development resulted in ghost towns. Why would NEOM succeed in realizing a 'world-class city' where Chinese megaprojects failed?