by Natalia Tronina, GLOBUS Correspondent
The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered many ambitious plans that were devised to mitigate the risks of climate change. The concept of smart cities is one of them. But despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic, innovations aiming to bring forth the green transition scheme and improve living standards around the world are proceeding. In the first days of January, his Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Chairman of the NEOM Company Board of Directors, announced THE LINE project – a 170km long development in Saudi Arabia, encompassing urban communities run by 100% clean energy and free of vehicles. In the following article, we will be taking a look at how this development compares to trends in cities around the world that are already undertaking the challenge of providing healthier surrounding for their inhabitants.
The LINE Project, described as “a revolution in urban living”, attempts to create an eco-friendly living community across the desert. Basic necessities will be available
a within a 5-minute walk, promoting the physical activity as a component of a modern lifestyle, aligning with the project’s aim to reduce pollution. As a result, the debate over parking-free zones, overwhelming traffic jams or soaring parking charges would finally come to an end. As promising as it sounds, there is one thing probably not exposed enough in the project’s presentation – the comfort of living will notbe left untouched by 40-50OC temperatures.
By 2050, 1 million people will need to relocate because of rising CO2 emissions and sea levels. The idea underpinning development
s projects is to end the sacrifice of our health and well-being in the name of an unsustainable progress. One cannot say that the LINE project lacks ambition. With construction already underway, initiators hope to accommodate a million s citizen s and create over 380,000 workplaces. The area will also include ports, enterprise zones, research centres, multiple sport, leisure and entertainment facilities, and tourist destinations.
However, many suggest that we should first focus on improving life in our current cities before attempting to build new ones. Existing “smart cities” in Singapore, Dubai, Oslo, Copenhagen, Boston, Amsterdam, New York and London have been successful so far in achieving their goals. What is interesting is that every one of them can be recognized by a different strategy that it draws most attention to. In fact, it can be observed that some plans they outlined for 2021 were also advertised in Saudi Arabia’s project. The concept of 5, 10, 15 and 20-minutes within which citizens should be able to access work, school, shopping centres, and sport facilities, is already being implemented in Paris and is featured as one of the priorities in current mayor, Anne Hidalgo’s, re-election campaign. Hong Kong and Dubai have already made
a significant progress in digitalizing its government services – another bullet point on NEOM’s list. Adding on to that are targets announced by 26 cities in California that strive for making all new and retrofitted municipal buildings electrified or 100% carbon free over the next few years as a response to last year’s devastating bushfires. All in all, there are many developments to be proud of already.
Probably an even more interesting thing is how these cities strive to gain public support for their ideas. What is especially visible in European cities is that implemented strategies are closely related to local culture or habits of their citizens. With more than 50% of people commuting to work and school by bike, Copenhagen offers multiple apps developed using locally collected data. They suggest the best routes during peak hours to avoid areas with high concentration of CO2, how fast you need to cycle to run a green light and inform you about the number of calories burned during daily rides. It is all powered by a system awarded in 2017 that monitors traffic, air quality, waste management, energy use. By connecting parking and charging systems, traffic lights and buildings, it can effectively direct traffic in real time with consideration of fuel prices or weather, providing best and optimized solutions in given circumstances.
Once we have taken a broader look at the entire concept, it seems fair to say that there is no wonder why many remain sceptical about The Line project. Not taking away its ambition, modernity and most importantly, good intentions of continuing progress towards the mitigation of climate change, there is one thing it lacks – the sense of community and inherited uniqueness that already existing cities possess. Critics call it a costly and risky investment, as there is no guarantee it will succeed it as soon as its initiators hope.
What is promising, however, is that ideas for constantly better and more efficient living environments appear in all parts of the world. Councils propose different solutions, exchange strategies and shape policies introduced in the those that are just joining the green transition project. With so many positive news brought at the very start of 2021, we have multiple grounds to hope that this drive towards innovation will continue and even accelerate towards the greener, better tomorrow.