Saudi Arabia is getting into the city-building business with a new mega-city that will span three different countries and be powered completely by alternative or green energy.
The country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, announced the $500-billion plan, which will create a futuristic city in the northwestern region of the country.
Dubbed Neom, the mega city will cover 26,500 sq km in total, spanning territory within Egypt and Jordan as well. The city is set to be the world’s first independent economic zone, operating with its own laws, taxes, and regulations.
Neom will be powered completely by renewable energy from solar and wind panels, with its transport system also running on 100 per cent green energy.
Some other things will be different, too. The flashy promotional video features women running in sports bras and working side by side with men, often without the head-covering hijab.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said he wants to turn Saudi Arabia into a more moderate version of Islam, and it recently for the first time allowed women to drive cars.
Until last month, Saudi Arabia was the only country where women were not allowed to drive. Male guardians in the kingdom still have the final say on whom a woman can marry and even where she travels.
The new city will also see vertical urban farms, seawater farming, and solar-powered greenhouses that will help provide residents with fresh food supplies. The zone will also be a space to test out new technological advances like passenger drones and self-learning traffic systems.
Located next to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, the massive city will also provide a serene landscape composed of more than 290 miles of coastline and vast desert terrain.
The city’s coastline includes a variety of untouched beaches and coastal reefs and its valleys are cradled by mountains, creating a more moderate climate than that of nearby areas.
Plans also include the creation of sports and visual arts venues, a variety of marinas and waterside restaurants, record-breaking theme parks, natural parklands, a water park with a wave pool where Olympians will practice, and what officials say will be the world’s largest garden.
The move comes as the world’s largest oil exporter looks to boost its economy after falling oil prices.
Construction is already set to begin, with the first phase planned for completion by 2025. The progress of Neom can be followed development through an interactive map on the project’s website.
In his speech on Tuesday, Prince Mohammed bin Salman stressed that he would push for the social reforms. “We were not like this in the past,” he said. “We want to go back to what we were: moderate Islam.”
On Neom, the prince told a crowd in Riyadh, “This place is not for conventional people or conventional companies. This will be a place for the dreamers of the world.”
Most Saudis hold jobs with the government, and the public-sector wage bill makes up about half of the country’s total expenditure. By 2030, Saudi Arabia wants to trim that by about 20 per cent, which would mean that there’s a need for rapid private-sector growth.