Construction On Saudi $500B ‘Neom’ Territory Based on Tech and Liberal Values to Start in Q1 2019

Neom will become a test case for a zero-energy mega-city with a size 33 times that of New York–and like a combination of Las Vegas and Hong Kong, in the Middle East.

PKONWEB Report (NEW YORK/RIYADH) — Construction on Saudi Arabia’s Neom gigaproject will start in the first quarter of 2019, officials announced this week.

The Neom Founding Board, chaired by Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, approved the strategic concept of the master plan for Neom Bay, the first urban area to be developed within Neom, as reported by Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The board gave “gave instructions to complete preparations and start construction work in the first quarter of 2019”, the state-news agency added.

Neom’s location offers a terrain with mountains, deserts, 285 miles of coastline and coral reefs, as well as a moderate climate, with temperatures on average 10 degrees Celsius lower than the rest of Saudi Arabia.

Work on Phase 1 of Neom Bay will be completed in 2020. It is expected that a number of key facilities will be completed by the end of this year, including the current airport at Sharma, which will be upgraded to become a commercial airport operating regular flights between Riyadh and Neom.

The overall proposal includes a bridge to Egypt and links to Jordan. If you could stand on a boat at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba, at the northern tip of the Red Sea, you could turn your head and see four countries; Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. All four countries converge at that location.

Backed by Public Investment Fund, which is led by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince HRH Mohammed Bin Salman, the $500 billion new territory based on tech and liberal values will be built from scratch on 10,231 square miles of untouched land and as an independent zone with its own regulations and social norms.

Once completed, Neom will jettison the Kingdom into non-oil economy and propel it into new economic sectors hitherto untapped maximally.

Panelists discussing the future of Neom, from left to right: the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of the SoftBank Group Corp. of Japan; Stephen A. Schwartzman, chairman and co-founder of the Blackstone Group; Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics; Klaus Kleinfeld, former chairman and CEO of Arconic Alcoa Inc., and Siemens AG.

Behind the lego-like humanized vision of Neom is the October 2017 brainstorming in which five of the richest men in the world sat next to each other in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh and with childlike excitement talked about their new shared dream: building Neom.

They were on stage at the first edition of the Future Investment Initiative, an event that gathered international business leaders to explore new economic opportunities for a country that has been dependent on oil revenues but now looks to fulfill its “Vision 2030” program.

Neom is to be the grandest manifestation of that vision. A city of the future, the likes of which the world has never seen—except maybe in science fiction books and movies.

It will be created specifically to be in service of economic progress and the well-being of its citizens, in the hopes of attracting the world’s top talent and making Neom a hub of trade, innovation and creativity.

While the scope of ambition for this urban project may be unprecedented for this century, its necessity is evident. With falling oil prices and declining demand, as well as insufficient investment opportunities at home, Saudi Arabia is searching for its place in the future.

The goal for Neom is to not only be able to provide for all of its energy needs via solar and wind power, but to also be an exporter.

It hopes to utilize another abundant natural resource: the sun. As Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of the SoftBank Group Corp. of Japan, said during the panel:

“Only 3% of the land of Saudi Arabia can provide over 50% of the electricity of the world, with today’s solar technology.”

Neom will not only become a test case for a zero-energy mega-city (with a size 33 times that of New York), but it will provide abundant opportunities for employment and investments within Saudi Arabia, attracting local and foreign money back to the country. The city’s vision is to be at the forefront of nine key economic sectors, including energy and water, biotech, advanced manufacturing, and food.

Neom has a strategic coastal Red Sea location close to international markets and trade routes. Approximately 10% of the world’s trade flows through the Red Sea and 70% of the world’s population can reach it in under eight hours flight.

Addressing a question about the political and social stability of the region, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said:

“We were not like this in the past. We only want to go back to what we were — the moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all the religions. […] 70% of the Saudi people are less than 30 years old, and quite frankly we will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas.”

$500 billion has already been committed to the construction of Neom, with its first phase expected to be completed in 2025. The city will be owned by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, overseen by a special authority, chaired by Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Excluding sovereign laws (pertaining to the military sector, foreign policy and sovereign decision), Neom will have its own governmental framework, including different taxation, customs and labor laws.

Marc Reibert of Boston Dynamics emphasized that the success of the project will depend on attracting the right talent (“dreamers” are welcome) and creating the right culture of innovation that will allow for building this technological city of the future, where all services and processes will be entirely automated, food will be grown in the desert, drones will fly in the skies, and there will be a full-scale e-government.

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