Jules Verne once wrote a science fiction novel called L’Île à hélice’ (Propeller Island) −also published as The Floating Island, or The Pearl of the Pacific− exploring the concept of floating, aquatic island cities. Key reason to think about this concept is the fact the Earth is mostly covered by water, and all of the ocean surface is still available. For the moment construction on water is still very expensive, obviously because we are earthlings and almost everything we use and produce comes from land. We did not even explore enough of the oceans and there are more people that landed on moon than that visited the deepest point of ocean. Still, oceans can and will be the next step in our future development.
Squeezed between rising populations, rising seas, and threatened ecosystems, cities need new options, including a sustainable, real-world approach to the formerly fanciful vision of offshore communities. One of this ambitious futuristic new megacity city project plans has been proposed in Saudi Arabia as NEOM, an acronym for New Future, combining the ancient Greek prefix Neo for new with the M as an abbreviation for the Arabic word Mustaqbal which means future. NEOM would be a 25.900 square kilometers city-state located in Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk province near Jordan in Egypt. This is a city built from scratch that if all goes to plan, it will be 33 times the size of New York city. With $500 billion going into its development there are some huge plans in place for the city of the future. First of all, “The line”, it is called “The line” basically because its literally a hundred-mile line. It’s meant to house one million residents spanning multiple communities and ecologies and connected via an ultra-high-speed transit system underground. The city will be powered by 100% renewable energy with business regulations aiming to promote regenerative and sustainable practices. Developers claim that all essential daily needs will be within a five-minute walk because the city is going to be built around people and not cars, in fact there will be no cars or traditional roads for that matter. Residents will live on the ground layer amongst open spaces, gardens, parks, and the natural environment. Underground will be a business-based layer containing offices, retail, and restaurants. And under that will be a transit layer where freight will also move all out of sight. Finally, everything will incorporate artificial intelligence and robotics in order to learn and improve services to business and the people living in the communities on the line. According to Joseph Bradley, NEOM’s head of technology and digital “we’re fundamentally building the world’s first cognitive city.” Project Neom was conceived by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and is the flagship project of his 13-year plan to modernize the conservative kingdom, named “Vision 2030”. For most of its history Saudi’s economy was based around oil. NEOM is one part of the kingdom’s plan to diversify itself away from the oil-based economy. The Kingdom has turned to tourism and technology as part of their future strategy. This project includes $810 billion of investment in culture, entertainment and leisure development over the next decade with the goal to have 100 million visitors of the kingdom by 2030. Neom is financed by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (FIP). Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is chairman of Neom and the FIP.
As part of the kingdom’s NEOM project, The Crown Prince has announced the formation of OXAGON. The development is a mega-project of an eight-sided industrial carbon emissions-free city floating on the Red Sea. It will feature a port and a logistics hub and will be a “comprehensive cognitive city” focused on robotics and artificial intelligence, as described by the official Saudi Press Agency. Vishal Wanchoo, CEO of Oxagon, and head of engineering at Neom, expresses the hopes behind the latest massive project for the kingdom and challenges the sceptics who claim the development is not achievable, particularly after previous efforts to build economic and financial free zones struggled to take off.
Half of Oxagon will float on the Red Sea, which on average is 500 metres deep. Oxagon planned to function as a modern new model for the manufacturing hub of the future while also incorporating towns, research centers, education zones, and tourist attractions. Comprising a large area in the southwest corner of NEOM, the core urban environment is centred around an integrated port and logistics hub that will house most of the city’s anticipated population. The unique octagonal design minimizes the impact on the environment and provides optimal land use, with the remainder exposed to preserve 95% of the natural environment. The floating city limits coastal sprawl, while creating waterfront communities that can be efficiently cooled and controlled using the ocean’s natural moderating affects. And by moving research and technology offshore, Oxagon will leverage the power of the Red Sea to drive innovation in ocean exploration, marine transportation, food production, and tourism.
The hallmark of this city is the largest floating structure in the world, which will become the centre of the NEOM Blue Economy and achieve sustainable growth. These are expected to include sustainable seafood production, biotech development, and synergies in emerging technologies between land-based and marine industries. The site would rely on wind farms, solar power, and cutting-edge technology that transforms water into oxygen and hydrogen for fuel. Plans include flying drone taxis, a Jurassic Park–style amusement park with robotic dinosaurs, and the highest density of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. The region’s stark landscape would be transformed by cloud-seeding machines, the world’s largest coral garden, glow-in-the-dark sand, and a giant artificial moon that lights up nightly.
The onshore development at Oxagon is expected to be completed by 2030. At the moment as construction was originally reported to start in the first quarter of 2021, the regions are being developed where 1,500 Neom employees are already working and living on site. Now that it’s finally underway, the next step for the site is to get the city-state declared a ‘free zone’ with different laws than the rest of Saudi Arabia. Officials claim that it may be accomplished as early as the first few months of 2022. They also said that the containerisation of the port is likely to begin in 2022 when they will also be building the advanced integrated port logistics facilities. They aim to have their logistics solutions facilities in place by 2025 as they continue to progress and deploy new technologies such as state-of-the-art high-speed rail and aerial taxis.
Through Oxagon, there will be a fundamental change in the way the world views manufacturing centres. Oxagon will build the world’s first integrated port and supply chain ecosystem for NEOM across seven priority manufacturing clusters: renewable energy, autonomous and sustainable mobility, modern construction, water innovation, sustainable food production, health and wellbeing, and technology and digital, setting global benchmarks in technology adoption and environmental sustainability. Oxagon will tap into Industry 4.0 to become a revolutionary city for innovators. Its ambition to balance technology, economy, and environment within a well-functioning city will attract, retain, and promote innovators from all around the world.