Saudi Arabia is trying to build the largest linear city ever. It’s a visionary but flawed concept, city planners say.

  • Saudi Arabia has embarked on its ambitious project to build a city in the shape of a line.

  • Although the concept of linear urban design has been around since the 19th century, few have tried it.

  • Business Insider asked architects, urban planners and academics whether a line is a good shape for a city.

Saudi Arabia is building a huge mirror city in the desert.

The Line, as it is called, is actually a megacity made up of two skyscrapers that was originally intended to stretch over 170 km, with the aim of eventually housing nine million people.

Officials call it an “architectural masterpiece” and a “revolution in urban life.”

Although recent reports suggest plans have been scaled back, the 2.4 kilometers yet to be built will be the largest linear city in existence when completed.

As a concept, linear living is nothing new.

“It’s ambitious, but hardly revolutionary,” Anirban Adhya, professor of architecture and urban planning at Lawrence Technological University, told Business Insider.

After the Industrial Revolution, many urban planners looked to alternative city layouts to deal with the growing population.

Spanish architect Arturo Soria is widely credited with designing the first linear city, “La Ciudad Lineal”, in 1882 on the outskirts of Madrid. About forty years later, in 1924, the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier offered another radical alternative with his ‘Ville Radieuse’, a linear, ordered metropolis full of green space.

Soviet urban planner Mikhail Okhitovich was sent to a gulag in 1930 for his “economically crippling” proposal to transform the city of Magnitogorsk into eight ribbon-like strips converging on a factory.

“It is common for city planners to call for a new future in response to what they claim is ‘unsustainable’; The existing situation of their time in The Line in Neom is no different,” said Adhya.

But revolutionary or not, is the idea of ​​building a dense metropolis in the form of a line a good idea?

The Line Neom

“The Line” at Neom, a series of cities connected by an underground transportation system.Neom

Compared to traditional layouts, the benefits of linear cities include efficient public transportation, easy access to nature, and a more egalitarian lifestyle. Theoretically endless, they can easily expand as populations grow.

Proposals for The Line reflect many of these promises.

The project’s website presents the city as a solution to mass urbanization and the climate crisis, portraying it as a sustainable car-free utopia that will preserve 95% of the region’s land.

Neom’s designers claim that all essential amenities will be accessible within five minutes and nature is just a two-minute walk away. AI-powered technology across the city will improve sustainability and maximize residents’ life expectancy, they say.

“There is no right shape for a city – they typically evolve over time, based on natural, cultural, transportation, political and economic factors,” Mona Lovgreen, a partner at Canadian architecture firm DIALOG, told BI.

She believes that the linear form of The Line, if designed correctly, would make it accessible and facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources along its entire length.

Neom construction.Neom construction.

Construction of Neom.Neom

While she said the goals may be exaggerated, Lovgreen believes The Line’s vision is admirable.

“It challenges us to rethink urban design and discover new ways to make cities efficient, livable and sustainable.”

It could be a game-changing example for using AI to improve sustainability and energy efficiency, something U.S. city planners should replicate, Lovgreen added.

The focus on convenience and services at your fingertips is also promising, says Adhya, pointing to successful examples already in use in cities like Paris and Portland.

In “smaller bits and pieces,” The Line’s linear structure could work, Adhya said.

‘Bland and monotonous’

While some practical aspects of the structure have potential, all BI experts who spoke saw fundamental problems with the lived experience in linear cities.

“The Line could be a fascinating place to visit and experience, but I’m still not sure humans are designed to live in such a rigid and prescriptive structure,” Lovgreen said.

De Lijn consists of modules that can each accommodate 80,000 people and move via a horizontal and vertical transport system.

The line, NEOMThe line, NEOM

This publicity image shows a design for ‘The Line’, part of the planned Saudi Arabian desert megacity in NEOM.Neom

“Compared to other urban designs such as grid layout, radial layout, ring layout or a combination of these, the human experience in a strictly linear urban development may lack interest and variety,” explains Adhya.

“Certain parts of the city can become too distant and separated.”

The repetition of infrastructure and individual components would be “boring and monotonous,” without the unique character that other cities offer, Lovgreen said.

“Ultimately, the psychological impact of living in such a regulated environment can impact the well-being of residents,” she told BI.

This type of structure is not only monotonous, but can also limit social cohesion, according to John Gold, professor of urban geography at Oxford Brookes University.

“Linear cities are an extreme form of urban sprawl – community development and social cohesion must still be central,” Gold told BI.

Another challenge in Neom’s design is its over-reliance on technology and the public transportation system, experts said. If something went wrong, the entire system would crumble, they warned.

“Most cities have network redundancy, where multiple options are available if a specific connection or intersection is blocked. A linear city may not have this option,” Lovgreen explains.

NEOM Saudi ArabiaNEOM Saudi Arabia

NEOM’s location in Tabuk Province, Saudi Arabia.NEOM

Finally, despite The Line’s sustainability statements, the enormous mirrored walls could be ecologically damaging, both in terms of unnecessary heat gain within the structure and damaging the migration routes of billions of birds.

But the big question, according to Gold, is: “who would actually want to live in such a ‘city’?”

“These plans, and the Saudi one is a classic example, map out a hi-tech utopian future, but never deal with people as they really are. In my opinion, linear city plans are best left as design exercises for third-year architecture students,” said Gold.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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