Down the Line

by Christian Britschgi of Rent Free at Reason: For years now, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pitching a utopian new city called The Line to be built in the country’s sparsely populated Tabuk desert region.

The original plans for the aptly named “The Line” called for a miles-long, car-free city sandwiched between two long skyscrapers. Inhabitants in this ultra-planned city would be able to access the amenities of daily life within five minutes of travel. Getting from one side of The Line to the other would take 20 minutes tops.

It appears that there’s trouble in this planned, linear paradise, reports Bloomberg. The original goal was to have 1.5 million people living in the Line by 2030. That’s now been shrunk to 300,000 people living there by 2030.

We’ll see if the city ever gets that many residents, given how fundamentally flawed the design of The Line is. 

In all nominally capitalist countries where land prices influence development, cities have a radial pattern of development with a dense urban core surrounded by lower-density neighborhoods.

There’s a reason for this,¬†as I wrote in 2022:

The central city is in the most demand because it has the quickest access to the rest of the urban area. That demand pushes up land prices, which developers respond to by building taller buildings that use less land. As you move outward, access to the rest of the city gets harder, demand and land prices fall, and densities start to fall with them.

The Line would ditch this radial urban development pattern for an incredibly inefficient, well, line. Incredibly valuable land above and below the center of The Line would have to be left vacant. Meanwhile, out-lying areas of The Line that are further away from the city center, and therefore less valuable, would have inefficiently high densities.

Micro-managing the location of amenities so that everything is within a five-minute walk or train trip would also seem to leave little room for businesses and residents to make their own trade-offs between cheaper floor space and closer access to customers and amenities.

Expect future disappointing news from this project.

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Related Video: Line City Explained