While Rome wasn’t built in a day, it certainly didn’t take a press roll out.
This week, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced NEOM, a futuristic city consisting of nanobiology labs, solar panels, Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury retailers and of course A.I. everywhere — with the promise to launch by 2030.
The metro hub will be located furthest west of the country, at the border of Jordan and Egypt, overlooking the Red Sea, and apparently feature the first bridge between Asia and Africa.
But you may be asking…why?
Ghanem Nuseibeh of Cornerstone Global Associates, who’s consulted on projects in the region such as the Durrat Al Bahrain man-made island and the Dubai Tower in Doha, tells Inverse the move is an obvious one for Saudi Arabia.
“The point here is that they’re trying to reposition the Saudi economy to shift from oil to high tech and put Saudi kingdom at the forefront of technological advances,” Nuseibeh said.
Another major element — in line with the current Saudi economy — is the idea of building infrastructure to attract world talent to come to, in this case, choosing to live and work in NEOM.
As for that dystopian-sounding name, it could be interpreted as an English-Arabic portmanteau: “Neo” being a play on “new,” with the M standing for “mustaqbal,” meaning future in Arabic.
The timeline may be bold, given the technology promised in NEOM is still only on the verge of development. But Nuseibeh noted the ambitious projected finish date is important as a way to symbolically claim this is the direction the country is going in.
“This is a general idea being presented, and the details being worked out later,” he says. “It’s a generational project, not an overnight one.”
And perhaps most importantly, Saudi Arabia’s quest to race its similarly petroleum-ridden neighbors socially and economically could be the best incentive of all.
“This is the post-oil era,” Nuseibeh said. “These countries are trying to flourish beyond oil exporting and the ones who don’t will be left behind.”