The Line: Saudi Arabia’s Sustainable Future

In what could be the modern worlds boldest urban development, “The Line” seeks to redefine what it means to build a city. This project is the flagship model for the NEOM megacity [1] which will stretch across Saudi Arabia from the mountains of NEOM to the Red Sea. The concept imagines a giant city, costing $1 trillion to build, holding 9 million people. The structure will be 200m wide, 500m high and 170km long.[2] The Line is designed as two parallel buildings stretching 120km, clad in mirror, containing housing, recreational and business facilities. [3]

The Line

The Line, if successful, will revolutionise not only city planning and architecture, but also net zero ambitions for the nation. The city will have no roads, cars or emissions and will run on 100% renewable energy. 95% of the land included in the plans will be preserved for nature. The health and well-being of residents will be prioritised in the city planning. Everyone will have access to all daily essentials within a five-minute walk. A high-speed rail – with an end-to-end transit time of the entire city in just 20 minutes will enable larger journeys.[4]

Aims of The Line

This “one building city”[5] seeks to solve problems of the well-being of city residents, sustainability, economic instability, access to nature and the environmental impact of city sprawl.

As part of the larger NEOM urban mega-project, The Line will be a hub of renewable energy generation. Energy produced by and used in the development will be derived from natural resources including wind, solar and green hydrogen facilities, as well as providing a research and development site for new technologies to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon energy system.[6] Developers have released plans to develop “the world’s largest green hydrogen project” at NEOM, through a $5 billion endeavour to produce 650 tonnes of the fuel a day by 2025, which will be available for global export in the form of ammonia.

The development is part of the Saudi rebrand plan to market the areas travel hotspots and reshape the kingdom’s economy. Designers hope to attract 100 million annual visitors, boosting the local economy by billions of dollars. [7] Its location was in part selected to attract global investment with its proximity to existing commercial routes. Around 13% of the world’s trade passes through the Red Sea, and around 40% of the world is fewer than six hours away by air.[8]

The progressive design will offer residents access to nature in a way that older cities cannot. The design of The Line focuses on layering its functions vertically to minimise city sprawl. Diverse open spaces will be suspended on multiple levels to allow all residents access within a two-minute walk of their living space. The Line will also provide views of the surrounding natural landscape, mountains and sky with the reduced infrastructure footprint limiting the possibility of future urban sprawl.[9] This feeling of being close to nature will be enhanced by the city’s zero-carbon functionality. Pollution-producing infrastructure will be eliminated and the integration of nature and open spaces throughout will serve an important role in enhancing air quality. The microclimatic spaces supporting the areas for nature will be achieved through the environmental designs allowing for an optimal balance of sunlight, shade and natural ventilation.

Challenges and Criticisms of The Line

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is an avid supporter of the project, has been plagued with accusations of human rights violations. In March 2022, 81 men were executed in the largest mass execution in decades. A US intelligence report revealed that bin Salman approved the operation to capture the journalist Jamal Khashoggi though this has been denied. While the Saudi government has introduced periodic labour reforms, their limited nature and lax enforcement have seen exploitative and dangerous practices continue for the migrant worker population[10].

There are concerns about the previous use of the land. The Saudi government has been accused of forcibly displacing members of the Howeitat tribe to make way for The Line. At least 47 members of the tribe have been arrested or detained for resisting eviction. Five have also been sentenced to death, according to a report by the UK-based ALQST rights group.[11]

The design of the city hinders active and direct mobility. Most of the city will only be reachable via the planned public transport, making travel times a significant problem. [12] Although transport will be available, the convenience of cars in other cities will be difficult for group travel infrastructure to match. [13]

Finally, the claims of The Line running sustainably ignore the vast energy and resources used in the initial construction. [14] Much of the investment for the construction of The Line also comes from profits from the fossil fuel industry. [15] The Line has been perceived by some as a smokescreen to signal climate action while the nation continues increasing fossil fuel production.


Despite challenges, construction of this innovative development has already begun with recent images showing construction of buildings and mass excavation. [16] The Line presents a revolutionary perspective on urban design and living. The project will enable technological development thanks to the integration of AI to design and monitor the cities infrastructure. [17] Much of its design is focused on achieving net zero and providing new and innovative ways to maintain urban living.

To learn more about the complexity and challenges of the global energy transition which this project is part of, take a look at our Global Energy Transition course or our more advanced Net Zero Consultant Expert Certificate Pathway.