$500 billion ‘NEOM’ megacity for Middle East

$500 billion ‘NEOM’ megacity for Middle East

9 March 2018

Saudi Arabia has awarded the first major contracts to build what it claims will become the world’s first truly “smart city,” reports The Saudi Gazette.

The proposed megacity will anchor a 26,500 square kilometre independent economic zone stretched across the juncture of three countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

The region will it will have its own tax, labour laws, and legal system, but will be protected by the Saudi military and subject to Saudi foreign policy.

Dubbed NEOM—from two Arabic words meaning “New Future”—the project aims to place Saudi Arabia at the epicenter of the Middle East’s economic future and as a global leader of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR)—a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

The post-oil utopian vision was unveiled last year by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and his vision looks very much at odds with the ultra-conservative kingdom currently on show.

“NEOM will focus on nine specialised investment sectors and living conditions that will drive the future of human civilisation,” said the Crown Prince.

The reformist prince wants the city to be a hub for the future of energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological and digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, and media production.

So, what sort of city do you get for US$500 billion?

Check out some of the heady claims on the NEOM website:

Energy and Water

Huge fields of solar panels partnered with wind turbines will light up large energy grids. NEOM scientists will pioneer future energy production, use, and storage—for water, gas, oil, solar, wind, algae, as well as new forms of energy not yet discovered. And these without any pollution.


One hundred per cent green transport systems that glide smoothly and safely in three dimensions along efficient and scenic routes. A new, iconic bridge across the Gulf of Aqaba linking Asia with Africa, making Neom a global hub of connectivity.


NEOM aims to become a nexus for healthcare research and innovation, including next-generation gene therapy, genomics, stem cell research, nanobiology, and bioengineering.


State-of-the-art technologies like arid and seawater farming and solar-powered greenhouses. Also planned are vertical urban farms and locally grown produce.

Advanced manufacturing

Personalised, fully automated point-to-point transfers, passenger drones, self-learning traffic systems, and other innovations in research and development, supply, transport, and infrastructure.


Futuristic theme parks and the world’s largest city garden will make the city a tourist mecca.

Will Saudi Arabia deliver on the hype?

NEOM is the latest in a series of Saudi economic megacity projects that have so-far underachieved, says the think tank Global Risks Insight.

Its gigantic size, diverse investment sectors, and the associated labour demand are almost utopian in scale. Notable risks include regional tensions among rival Arab powers, social instability due to inequality, and terrorism.

But the Saudi’s expect some half a trillion dollars to be invested in the project in the next few years. The Russian Direct Investment Fund and Japan’s Softbank Group, for example, are stumping up billions of dollars to get involved. British entrepreneur Richard Branson has spoken of building one or two hotels in the city.

Saudi Arabia’s breathtakingly bold vision is due to be completed by 2030.

Time will tell if they can achieve it.