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Neom is defying traditional principles of urbanism, design, architecture, technology, and the very concept of smart cities. A key factor enabling this reimagination is that Neom is being built from scratch, while most other cities are being retrofitted to become smart -- and none with the budgets that Neom is working with.

While we talk about smart cities, Saudi Arabia is creating a cognitive city, Neom, which envisages what a city must provide its citizens 20-30 years ahead of time. It is building it now with a $500 billion outlay. Urban planning and living are at the heart of this model, with 95% of the land being devoted to nature. That it's being built ground-up enables avant-garde thinking to take shape, with almost no constraints on imagination, innovation, resources or regulation.

'Neom' is from neos, Greek for 'new', and mustaqbal, Arabic for 'future'. It will be 26,500 sq km, situated on Saudi Arabia's northwest coastline along the Red Sea, accommodating 450,000 people by 2026, and about 2 million by 2030 and 9 million by 2045. The centrepiece is 'The Line', a 100-mile, 200 m wide, horizontal city, with housing, workplaces, parks, entertainment, retail and leisure areas. Every facility, including preventive healthcare, will be available within a short walk.

The promise is that interiors will be built to create captivating experiences, while the exterior will have a mirror facade to blend with nature. Expect to see lush greenery, amazing views of the sky and mountains, alongside flying elevators, space ports and awe-inspiring double helix structures. The city will run entirely on renewable energy (RE), with the environment curated optimally for sunlight, shade and ventilation. There will be no cars. Instead, a hi-speed rail system will get you across the city, from one end to another, in quick time. Artificial intelligence (AI) will enable other finely tuned automated services.

Neom will include Oxagon, a manufacturing innovation city focused on 14 industrial sectors, Trojena, a mountain tourism locale that will include an outdoor skiing venue, and Neom Bay. Business opportunities are expected to create 380,000 jobs by 2030. All systems will be digitalised, including planning, design, procurement, logistics, construction and lifetime operations and management. AI and machine learning (ML) will continuously enhance productivity, efficiency and speed.

According to Neom's chief projects officer, a living lab will be created to research construction design, processes and alternative materials, disrupting current project planning, execution methods and techniques. An RE grid will be installed across all construction sites. The modern methods of construction (MMC) ecosystem will also involve wide usage of 3D printing, fewer natural resources, reduced emissions, zero construction waste and circular economy techniques. An advanced internet of water (IoW) infrastructure will provide high-quality drinking and recycled water across the network, monitoring smart irrigation, leak detection and contamination in real time. And the plan is for all of Neom to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

Neom is owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) and steered by Mohammed bin Salman, the country's crown prince and deputy PM. The ideas in the pipeline include flying taxis, robot domestic help, a project to strengthen humans by modifying the human genome, dinosaur robots, a beach that glows in the dark, cloud-seeded rain and a giant artificial moon.

According to The Wall Street Journal, though, red flags include the relocation of thousands, a slow justice system, tech challenges intrinsic to ambitious projects, fleeing recruits and stressed expatriate managers forfeiting lucrative contracts. Neom has been combating chronic delays for all these reasons.

A good reference point to define and rate smart cities is the smart city index (SCI) devised by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the Singapore University of Technology and Design. It evaluates quality, economic, technological and inclusiveness aspects. SCI's methodology captures the perception ratings of citizens across two pillars - structures (existing infrastructure) and technology (tech provisions and services available to citizens). The assessment of both pillars covers health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.

The survey uses scores over three years, the latest getting the maximum weight. Of the 118 cities that made the cut in 2021, the top five were Singapore, Zurich, Oslo, Taipei and Lausanne. For the record, New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru ranked 89, 90, 92 and 93 respectively. Other smart city indices include the Kearney Global Cities Index and Barcelona's IESE Business School's Cities in Motion Index.

Neom is defying traditional principles of urbanism, design, architecture, technology and the very concept of smart cities. A key factor enabling this reimagination is that Neom is being built from scratch, while most other cities are being retrofitted to become smart - and none with the budgets Neom is working with.

There are no guarantees that Neom will succeed. But in attempting to raise the bar so high - and despite it appearing a city for only the wealthy - Neom has certainly changed the texture and tonality of the smart city discourse.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Anil Nair

Quelle/Source: The Economic Times, 29.08.2022

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