Straight Line or Vertical: Will Neom be a Sustainable Model for the Future?

We all have heard of mega-housing complexes and skyscrapers that aim to reach the sky. However, recent news gripping the world is the rise of ‘The Neom project’. Can Saudi Arabia propose a line to disrupt the established vertical grid-like structures?

Neom, the extravagant dream of the Saudi crown prince, is an Arabic word for ‘new future’. As part of the Saudi Vision 2030, this 26.5 km² city is developed to become the world’s most sustainable complex. The Neom project in the Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia, the north-western part of Saudi Arabia bordering the Red Sea¹, is divided into four mega projects; The Line, Sindalah, Oxagon, and Trojena. In this article, we discuss the Line. 

The crown prince’s vision is to build two parallel 500 m tall skyscrapers 200m apart², made of reflective glass, which is supposed to span 170 km through the desert³ and transform it as a new way of living for 9 million residents. However fancy these may sound, in today’s article, I will dive deep into the sustainability aspect of The Line project from an ESG standpoint. 


The structure of The Line

Starting with The Line’s structure, this 170 km long wall could be a big problem for the climate outside the Line, as the mirror walls would reflect the sun rays during summers and create two heat zones and literally fry things around it. However, the mirrored walls are designed to include solar panels². As much controversy states, The Line will not be covered in the shade, and the mirrored structure will be modelled to allow natural light to enter inside. Suppose the space above the two parallel lines remains open. In that case, the architects may have to consider either shading the areas or a system of efficient cooling to protect the residents from the harsh summers that Saudi Arabia experiences. Ventilation systems would have to be designed at a higher cost. As for the plants, these will be situated at different strategic heights depending on their requirement for sunlight². 


The transportation across The Line will be via an underground hyper loop train that will not pollute the environment. In addition, no roadways or vehicles are permitted inside The Line, making this a carbon-free zone. 

Green Energy 

In another bold claim, Neom is planned to be a fully renewable energy-powered city upon becoming operational. And the region will produce 40 G.W. of energy from windmills and solar panels. In addition, a hydrogen-based plant will also be developed to meet the growing needs. At the start, Neom will operate at a 50:50 ratio of renewables and conventional power and, by 2030, aims to be fully renewable⁴. However, the embodied carbon that is associated with building the project and The Line, in particular, would be roughly 1.8 billion tonnes of CO₂,⁵ which is roughly approximating the emissions from the U.K. for four years⁵.

Clean Drinking Water

Supplying clean potable water in a desert in a carbon-free desalination plant is a futuristic project awarded to Japan’s Itochu and France’s Veolia companies in the Oxagon area of the Neom metropolis. This 500,000 m³ production plant will be run in a Zero-Liquid Discharge (ZLD) manner where the brine will be a feedstock for the downstream brine industries, and clean water will be supplied to the residents. Thus, achieving the target of 100% ZLD and sustainability for Neom⁶. An ZLD desalination method is one where the output of the desalination plant (concentrated brine) is an input for another industry, thus mitigating the negative effects of the brine.

Natural habitat

According to the Neom’s website⁷, 100 million trees, grasses and shrubs, and 1.5 million hectares of habitat will be restored to the native flora and fauna. However, it is unclear how the mirrored façade will impact animal and bird migration⁸. Furthermore, will The Line cut through mountains or be built around it to add to the natural surroundings? Unfortunately, this information is not available on the Neom website. 

Figure 1- Futuristic image of how life would be inside The Line, according to Neom’s official website⁷


Local community

While talking about huge megacomplexes, the first impact that comes to mind while discussing the social segment is the displacement of the already existing local community. Human rights activists claim that two housing towns have been forcibly cleared out, which include 20,000 members of the Huwaitat clan, without adequate compensation. This breach of international human rights is a severe offence that does not sit with the sustainability claim of the Neom project⁹.

Construction workers

During the construction phase of the Line, the workers and companies that build this mega project are also impacted. Has the company provided good essential protection for working on a project where temperature fluctuations go between 50ᵒ C in summers and below freezing point in winters? 

Future residents 

The next stakeholder in a housing complex is the residents themselves. How growth across organic cities will be allowed in a line is a topic of debate. The Line is meant to house 9 million residents only and is built around facilities and services for this population. This number has been developed considering the growing population predictions of Saudi Arabia for the future years. Suppose futuristic cities are planned with a particular number in mind; the services, infrastructure, and density can also be controlled, adding to the city’s sustainability. The Line could expand vertically, if not circularly, to accommodate the growing population.

To sustain the city, services, parks, housing, pedestrian areas, schools, places of work, housing, and transportation will be at different levels within the 200 m width¹⁰. The concept of transportation and services is such that daily needs will be met within a 5-minute walk from your home.

Food security

Neom claims to be ‘the world’s most food self-sufficient city’, as its vision for vertical farming and greenhouses will provide food security. But can this be done sustainably in a country that depends on 80% of imports? This is a question many still ask¹¹.

The main challenges Neom aims to solve are how to produce food with the least water print. Neom’s target is to produce about 600,000 tons of food by 2030⁷, wherein 325,000 tons will be fruits and veggies, and 178,000 tons will be alternative meat and dairy products. In addition, 48,000 tons of grains and 80,000 tons of aquaculture will be produced⁷. 

Governing body 

Saudi Arabia, known for its strict rules for women and the right to speak for the press, has declared that the Neom City will have a government with less stringent regulations and laws (and probably its autonomous judicial system) in a bid to attract foreigners. From the design and urban viewpoint, Neom is part of the Saudi initiative to diversify its economy away from oil and also be a leading lab for infrastructure, education, future industries and tourism research in the years to come. 


Many experts have criticised the economics and profitability of this enormous project. Saudi Arabia has invested $500 billion in the project⁷ and hopes to get the remaining 60% of the funds from foreign investors. In the beginning phase, it has yet to manage to secure funds, but this will change soon. With the Red Sea at its bay, about 10% of the world’s trade flows, and its proximity to other major hubs like London, Dubai and Cairo and Zurich, the geo-positioning of the Neom project is strategic. This vast project will also drive diversification in the sector and contribute to about 380,000 jobs and, as a result, a whopping $48 billion to the domestic GDP by 2030¹².

Figure-2 Geo-positioning of the Neom City in Saudi Arabia¹²

All said and done,

the Neom project is a gigantic aspiration of the crown prince and is for dreamers of the future. Whether it will truly stand to be sustainable, as it claims, can only be found in the future once it opens up. The dream to build a vast megastructure powered entirely by renewables is a great vision, as the future needs more of them.

The human population will only continue to grow, and the growing population in the future requires smart cities that are least polluting and efficient. The vision of food security towards plant protein is another considerable step growing forward, both in terms of carbon footprint and people’s health. If the world can dream of reaching outer space, it can build a green future. And someone needs to take the first step. The timeframe to achieve this mega feat is probably debatable. And the construction plight of the workers during harsh summers is a human rights concern.

However, for the better or the worse, I would echo the taglines of Neom, ‘The future is here, Neom is here’.

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The article was conceptualised and strategised by Deepa Sai, founder of ecoHQ

The article was authored by Jenifer F Dsouza, an environmental consultant with an M.S. degree from The University of Manchester, U.K. She has over seven years of experience in water technologies and is an ESG consultant. She advocates for environmental consciousness and is a content and technical writer for ecological issues. She has authored 11 peer-reviewed journals during her academic research with collaborative projects with MIT University, Boston.


  1. Neom: Saudi Arabia’s A.I. Megacity, youtube video, February 2022,
  2. Itochu and Veolia to develop zero-carbon Neom desalination plant, Informa, 17 June 2022, 
  3. The Line actually begins construction, youtube video, Jan 2023, 
  4. Everything you need to know about Saudi-mega-project Noem, dezeen, 14 February 2023,
  5. Sustainability and liveability claims of Saudi’s 170km city are naïve says experts, Dezeen, 8 August 2022,
  6. Itochu and Veolia to develop zero-carbon Neom desalination plant, Informa, 17 June 2022, 
  7. What is Neom? Neom,
  8. This city concept breaks architecture (The Line), DamilLee, October 2022, 
  9. Mohammed Bin Salman’s Bloody Dream City of Neom, Business & Human Rights Resource Center, 27 April 2020,
  10. Everything you need to know about Saudi-mega-project Noem, dezeen, 14 February 2023,
  11. Neom to produce over 600,000 tons of sustainable food to achieve Saudi self-sufficiency, Arab News, 1 February 2022,
  12. How is Neom contributing to a brighter future for Saudi Arabia, SNC Lavalin,

Published by ecoHQ

ecoHQ is a platform advocating for sustainability and conscious consumerism in India. At ecoHQ, we help Indians make educated choices about sustainable practices through awareness, advocacy and accountability. We spread awareness about sustainable development, advocate conscious growth and help brands be accountable for responsible solutions. Our ultimate goal is educating you to make the right choices for our people and planet.

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