Saudi Arabia Puts the Future of Cities on THE LINE

The city promises "zero cars, zero streets, and zero emissions."



THE LINE is a proposal for a linear city in the region of NEOM, a "living laboratory" in northwest Saudi Arabia. More precisely, it is a string of beads, each a sort of 5-minute city, stretched across an infrastructure spine of ultra-high-speed transit. It will be powered by 100% renewable energy, and "built around people, not cars, easily accessible and designed for convenience and walkability, creating vistas of beauty and tranquility." From the website:

What is the line
"THE LINE is a never-before-seen approach to urbanization – a 170km-long [105 miles] linear urban development of multiple, hyper-connected communities, with walkable neighborhoods integrated with public parks and the natural landscape. It is a model of urban design and livability in harmony with nature for the 21st century and beyond."
Why the Line

It's actually a very interesting idea.

"Walkability and livability are in the DNA of THE LINE. This pedestrian-first design approach defines THE LINE because of its ubiquitous relationship with nature, its comfort and flexibility placing everything you need within each community never more than a short walk away. Living, working and enjoying life without compulsory commuting is in the soul of the NEOM livability model."
How will the line operate?

The key to a linear city is the lower level with the hyperloopy high-speed transit.

"Infrastructure and supporting services – including high-speed transportation, utilities, digital infrastructure, and logistics will be seamlessly integrated in dedicated spaces running in an invisible layer along THE LINE. High-speed transportation will make long commutes a thing of the past, making life simple and stress-free."

Lots more to see on THE LINE site.

We've Seen This Movie Before: La Ciudad Lineal

Linear City
Arturu Soria

This is not a new concept; it was first formalized by Arturo Soria in Madrid. Most cities, like Madrid, are concentric. Arturo Soria proposed a development plan for the expansion of Madrid that was linear, as was the electric tram line that ran down the middle of it. According to one study (PDF here):

"The concept included one central avenue lined with ribbons of buildings. The avenue would take care of transportation of people and goods on both rail and road. The development would stretch through the countryside and would thereby encourage agricultural production along the linear city and raise living standards."
Linear City
Arturo Soria

Basically, Soria was proposing a giant linear streetcar suburb, where you would get off the tram and perpendicular to the main line and the restaurants and hotels that faced it, to the single-family houses that were located behind. It was supposed to be a 34 miles long city, but only three miles got built.


Edgar Chambless

The idea of a linear city based on a linear transport system makes a great deal of sense. I first admired it in Treehugger with Roadtown, laid out by Edgar Chambliss in 1910. It houses a thousand people per mile and is surrounded by farmland, so people can move along its length to get things that are made elsewhere, but one need only go perpendicular to the town to find (or grow) food. Bountiful electric power would make it all possible.

Roadtown in Colour
Edgar Chambless Roadtown

There is an electric train at the bottom, apartments above, opening out into narrow plots of land, everything you need just by going up or down. "A man may work as a shoe stitcher for three hours, turn off the power and go out and hoe potatoes." Then you head up to the roof.

"In the center of the roof will be a promenade that will be covered, and in the winter enclosed with glass and steam heated. On the outer edges of the roof will be a path for bicyclists and skaters, who will use rubber-tired roller skates. "

When a city is laid out in a linear fashion like this, it actually becomes easy to build and to service. In Roadtown "every house will have a bath and shower, and even the soap can be pumped along the linear building. A central vacuum system will keep it all clean."

Read the whole wonderful book on the Internet Archive here.

Jersey Corridor Project

Jersey Corridor
Michael Graves, Peter Eisenman

In 1965 two young architecture grads, Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman, proposed the Jersey Corridor project, a 20-mile long linear city. The plan was that it would eventually run from Maine to Miami. The idea was to have two buildings running parallel, the bigger residential and recreational, and the smaller commercial industrial. It is described in Life Magazine as having lower levels of parking and roadway, then an endless linear "downtown" of schools, churches, hospitals, offices and services.

"Six stories above ground it provides ample space for open-air cafes, shops, and pedestrian strolling– and striking vistas. Above are apartments, and on the very top restaurants, pools and penthouses."

Meanwhile, Back in Saudi Arabia

Line across countryside

The line stretches across four different microclimates, linking the coast of the Red Sea with the mountains and upper valleys of the northwest of Saudi Arabia. Many critics are rolling their eyes, but this is not without precedent as an idea. Transportation systems want to be linear, pipes and wires want to be linear, it only makes sense that buildings should be linear. They are on to something here.